Review: ‘Spring Awakening’ by Wolf Pack Theatre Company at Greenbelt Arts Center

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Wolf Pack Theatre Company’s production of Spring Awakening is a powerfully moving show. The 2006 musical, with Book and Lyrics by Steven Sater and Music by Duncan Sheik, is based on the 1891 play of the same name by the German writer Frank Wedekind. This version, co-directed by Christopher Overly and William Leary, combines haunting music and singing with emotional acting and inventive choreography to tell a universal story about young people growing up.

The cast of Spring Awakening, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company at Greenbelt Arts Center. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda, Duda Photography.
The cast of Spring Awakening, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company at Greenbelt Arts Center. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda, Duda Photography.

The set, designed by Overly and Leary, helps create a mysterious atmosphere. The black backdrop resembles a long blackboard, with German writing, equations, and a copy of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, done in chalk. Against the backdrop is a raised, two-level platform that at times moves around the stage. A tall ladder, piano, and chairs are brought in as needed.

Rachel Sharp and Christian Gonzales have a complex, very physical relationship as Wendla and Melchior. Sharp plays Wendla as an innocent at first, begging her mother (Christine Jacobs) to tell her all about love. In “Mama Who Bore Me” she paces the stage, eager for knowledge. Later, in “The Word of Your Body,” she and Gonzales sit near each other, their hands slowly reaching towards the middle and touching. In a later scene, yelling that she “doesn’t feel anything,” she convinces him to spank her. At first tentative, Gonzales turns angry, yelling at her and pushing her down. She crumbles on the ground crying. After “The Guilty Ones,” she lays her head in Gonzales’ lap, weeping. In “Whispering” she sings mournfully, aware of her life changing instantly; touching her belly, she changes to a triumphant, hopeful note.

Gonzales plays Melchior as a rebellious freethinker, giving his friend Moritz (Angel Duque) a 10-page essay he’s written about sex, complete with illustrations. He ends “Totally Fucked” with both middle fingers raised defiantly. He frequently reads aloud from his diary. He also gives Melchior a rich emotional range. After the spanking scene, he sings “The Mirror Blue Light” filled with regret and sadness for what he’s done. He tries to push away Sharp, but they end up kissing, and their sex scene is well-handled, a gradual process of fits and starts that ends with them laying in the middle of the stage together. He gives “Left Behind” the moving sadness of dealing with Moritz’s actions.

Angel Duque gives Moritz a nervous, frantic energy. He cowers in fear when his father (Tom Tomlinson) motions to strike him. “And Then There Were None” is filled with rage at the world and himself, as he tears up a letter reminding him of what life has to offer. He infuses “Don’t Do Sadness” with despair, racing across the stage carrying a gun. His decision is done in a stylized way, no less moving. In “Those You’ve Known” he and Sharp comfort Gonzales as he considers ending it all, a hopeful note in his voice before he disappears.

Alex Reeves plays Ilse with joyful vitality. She sings with pleasure of being an artists’ model and falling drunk at a party in “Blue Wind.” She tries to engage Duque, reminding him of the fun they had as children, while Duque withdraws from her. She sings “The Song of Purple Summer” with cautious joy. Sophia Nasreen Riazi-Sekowski gives Martha a deep sadness. In “The Dark I Know Well” she sings, opposite Reeves, of her father’s abuse, filled with rage and uncertainty.

Kenneth Lautz and Sean Miller are a joy to watch as gay couple Hanschen and Ernst. Lautz plays Hanschen as a seductive pleasure-seeker, coyly making references to studying “Achilles and Patroclus,” while Miller plays Ernst as an eager participant. Their version of “The Word of Your Body” is incredibly romantic, as they slowly, softly touch each other before passionately kissing.

Linda Swann and Dannielle Beitzell have done wonderful jobs as Costume Mistress and Costumer, with simple outfits that reflect the period. The boys wear white button-down shirts with black pants and different colored vests. Wendla wears a white cloth dress with a red sash. Ilse has a long green and white flowered dress, while Martha wears a light pink dress. The boys and girls also appear in white shorts and tank tops as undergarments.

Rachel Sharp and Christian Gonzales in Spring Awakening, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company at Greenbelt Arts Center. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda, Duda Photography.
Rachel Sharp and Christian Gonzales in Spring Awakening, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company at Greenbelt Arts Center. Photo by Rachel Zirkin Duda, Duda Photography.

The lighting design by Stephen Beitzell helps to reflect the mood. In “Totally Fucked,” flashing colored lights create a strobe effect. A blue light softly covers the stage in “The Mirror Blue Night,” setting a melancholy yet beautiful mood. In “My Junk” the lighting switches between two erotic scenes: a piano lesson and Hanschen enjoying a letter.

Jennifer Quilty does an excellent job with musical direction, strongly leading the orchestra, which is located offstage in the left corner. The music comes in clearly, blending well with the actors’ singing. The show ends with a headbanging reprise of “Totally Fucked,” with the audience singing along.

The choreography by Katy Chmura is incredibly well done, with lots of inventive movement that reflects the different songs. In “The Bitch of Living” the actors stand up on the chairs in defiance, and they lift up the chairs in “Totally Fucked.” “Touch Me” has them holding each other as they circle around the stage. In “I Believe” they sit around Wendla and Melchior, then stand to partially blur the couple’s sex scene.

Christopher Overly and William Leary have done wonderful jobs as Co-Directors. The actors easily navigate each other and the stage. They sing passionately, hitting all the right emotional points in every song, although occasionally the singing makes it hard to hear the accompanying spoken dialogue. Spring Awakening is a powerful reminder that no matter the era, young people have struggled with the many of the same issues. Don’t miss it!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Spring Awakening, presented by Wolf Pack Theatre Company, plays through September 30, 2018, at Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 301-441-8770 or purchase them online.