Arts & Entertainment

‘Spring Awakening’ Enlivens Summer in Alexandria

Frank Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening” was first performed in the author’s native Germany in 1891. Reborn as a Broadway musical in 2006, the play shows that youth awakening to the complexities of the adult world has never been smooth. Indeed, we see that one of the concerns of our own time – heavy use of educational testing, often for uncertain purposes, at the expense of concern for the student as a person – is not new. Similarly, family violence, suicide, and changing sexual mores and expectations have also been ongoing concerns. The students of today’s society may be closer to the world of Frank Wedekind than we may realize.  

“Spring Awakening” is now appearing at the Alexandria-based Monumental Theatre in a stunning production directed by Megan Bunn—a production which does not hide the complex issues of the original.  We meet struggling student Moritz (portrayed movingly by Trenton Beavers), who frets, “[Memorizing] sixty lines of Homer, all those quadratic equations… I’ll be up all night again…” We also encounter the earnest Melchior Gabor (Aidan Joyce), a frustrated overachieving student who constantly questions the world around him. Completing the trio is Wendla Bergman (poignantly played by Annie Graninger), an adolescent growing from sheltered childhood and into womanhood. The actress convincingly embodies her character’s transformation from unthinking innocence to a desire to understand more worldly topics. 

The older adults of the play are all played by two actors. We see in Ryan Seller’s finely tuned authoritarian cast for each character he plays (two fathers, the teacher, and the clergyman) the strict discipline which from all sides is oppressing the growth and natural inquiries of youth. Molly Rumberger’s performance fluctuates smoothly between a strict pedagogue and the nurturing mother of Melchior, who is sympathetic to the academic struggles of Moritz.

The musical numbers are performed beautifully, particularly the “The Song of Purple Summer,” sung by the ensemble.   “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” is also an extremely strong musical moment, with Beavers as Moritz dueting movingly with Teralin Jones, who plays the non-conformist Ilse (the only character in the play who appears to be truly free).

Costumes include long frock coats (designed by Darnell Patrick Morris); these serve well to suggest the 19th-century time period, while also providing atmosphere in the production’s purposefully austere staging.  The minimalist sets and props (by scenic designer Laura Valenti and props designer Yaritza Pacheco) work brilliantly to make the play simultaneously modern, abstract, and thought-provoking by focusing attention on the characters and their interactions, rather than on the 19th-century setting. Settings are also changed quickly and cleverly, with a school bench becoming a church pew in a subsequent scene, and afterwards a coffin.   

The stage lighting is similarly somber, utilizing deep hues, except for a beautiful, multicolored stained glass window hinting of beautiful possibilities beyond, if one could break free from the oppressive society portrayed here. Lighting designer Doug Delpizzo comes in for high praise.

The show’s music is “alternative rock.”  More accurately, the music alternates between rock and folk, and even includes classical stylistics of violins and a cello.  Marika Countouris serves admirably as music conductor and keyboardist of a seven-piece band. While the music is worlds removed from the music of the time in which the play is set, composer Duncan Sheik’s musical score creates a perfect ambiance for the play.

This drama is, as noted, of great relevance for contemporary U.S. society as the worries of alienated youth in Wilhelmine Germany play out surprisingly well to concerns in America today. At the same time, there are specific German references, such as to the earlier play “Faust” and its playwright Goethe’s story of young “Gretchen and her illegitimate child.” Thus, the concerns of modern society and 1891’s “Spring Awakening” go back even farther, in this case to the period of classical and romantic literature.

“Spring Awakening” runs through July 24.  Adult themes and situations abound, rendering the play inappropriate for children. More information can be found at: Theatre | Monumental Theatre Company | United States. Visit for photos.