“O, I’m gonna be wounded / I’m gonna be your wound / I’m gonna bruise you / you’re gonna be my bruise.” These poignant lines capture the pain of love and life; a pain that McMaster Musical Theatre’s production of the controversial play powerfully portrays.
Set in Germany circa 1892, Spring Awakening chronicles the struggles of sexually censored and socially oppressed young adults who express their anxieties and frustration in modern rock musical numbers. The clash between setting and musical style in the production, which is directed by Mac student Brad Dunn, is refreshing and gives the issues the characters experience timeless relevance.
And what a slew of issues they face. In a mere two hours, Spring Awakening covers incest, masturbation, child sexual abuse, suicide, queer sexuality, domestic violence, teen pregnancy and abortion. It’s an ambitious agenda, and can be both dislocating and exhausting for the audience. With so many heavy subjects to cover, not enough time can be afforded to each, leaving some depth to be desired as the play jumps from one topic to another.
Stringing the tragedies together into a linear plotline is the doomed teenage couple of Wendla and Melchior. Played sensitively and sang beautifully by Haley Midgette and Shane Bowley, this ill-fated pair suffer more than their fair share of sadness. In the context of a society that demands innocence and ignorance, this duo find each other and unintentionally shake up the status quo of their conservative town.
Their friend Mortiz, commandingly portrayed by the immensely talented Jason Wolwowicz, is also haunted by sex, family relationships and ultimately suicide. His story, along with that of several supporting subplots, covers vast territory in the world of teenage tribulations.
Amidst the heavy drama, it’s the beauty of the musical numbers and the moments of comic relief that prevent the show from being bogged down by its subject matter and keep it within the sphere of entertainment.
Expert choreography by Jennifer Enchin makes each song visually engaging and assists in powerfully conveying such significant messages. A sparse set design also makes the dance and dramatic physicality feel natural to the scenes.
The band behind the musical numbers also deserves commendation. Their well-chosen placement upstage in clear view of the audience adds interest to the background of the set and better fosters audience appreciation on the live music that they’re hearing.
Putting on a production of Spring Awakening is an act of bravery. It’s not commonplace to have sex, domestic violence, suicide, a gay makeout scene and group masturbation all explicitly take place on stage, never mind to be able to pull it off.
But somehow, McMaster Musical Theatre takes a heavy, complicated show, and does just that.
Spring Awakening continues this weekend in Robinson Memorial Theatre (CNH 103) on Friday at 2 p.m. (8 p.m. is sold out), Saturday at 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. (8 p.m. is sold out). Tickets are $12 for students, $20 for general admission and $25 for on-stage seating. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve tickets, or purchase tickets at the door.