Review: Spring Awakening: A Sin of Omission
Stripping a production down reveals all its vulnerabilities. The beauty of this approach is that if the work is strong, its assets will make up for any money-gobbling features like scenery, effects, and venue. The Looking Glass Theatre’s off-off-Broadway production of Spring Awakening: A Sin of Omission is one of those productions that shines when nothing much more than writing and acting is on the table.
Coming off of the critically acclaimed and box office success that was the Broadway musical version of Spring Awakening (which was beautifully minimalist itself), attending this translation of Frank Wedekind’s original straight play at the Looking Glass Theatre produces a little culture shock. Descending the Hell’s Kitchen building’s basement stairs to a non-air conditioned black box theater, I admit this spoiled theatergoer momentarily grappled for the amenities of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. Yet upon first seeing Kyle Lampe’s bare-bones set, which boasts pretty much only a swing, I had a feeling I’d settle in comfortably.
Knowing the story, the simple presence of the swing reminded me of Wedekind’s characters, the tragic teenagers who, in the middle of their playful youth, long only for love and understanding. The nine young actors who embody upwards of 20 characters in the play convey Wedekind’s powerful emotions quite acutely.
It’s striking to me how being so well acquainted with the musical Spring Awakening, a byproduct of Wedekind’s play, could provide such deeper understanding of the characters when visiting the original piece. In Looking Glass’s production, Melchior (Duncan Grossman) seems even more of a radical thinker, but also more plagued by his liberal convictions than freed. Michael Greehan’s Moritz has a perfect early-teen intensity, goofy and boyish for the tortured character. The showcase performance of the production, however, comes from Annelise Nielsen as Wendla. She gives the 14 year old a compelling wonderment in her expressions and matches naivety with immense soul.
Among an energetic supporting cast, Brittany Costa brings a heartbreaking intensity to Martha, who is a victim of brutal domestic abuse. Additionally, Costa switches from raw emotion to rubber-faced brilliance while portraying a player in the cartoonish brigade of adults. Linda Tardif brings great yearning to the outcast Ilse, and in a double role performs a fantastic and graceful dance as a temptress who appears to the impressionable George (Christian Hoots) in the night.
This version of Spring Awakening, which is adapted by Toby Bercovici (doubling as an efficient director) and Emily Denison, includes a substantial dance element, choreographed by Madelyne Camera. Numerous times throughout the play, the dance interludes seem to replace emotions through words, which is an effective take. At times, particularly in a solo dance for Moritz, the routines drag on and would benefit from some tightening.
In the wake of the massive success of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical, putting on a production of Spring Awakening is risky. Yet what was proved with the Broadway production holds true in this off-off-Broadway version of the original play—trusting in the writing and acting will fill in any blanks. This cast’s performances, full of earnestness, creates a full environment when only a bare wooden structure stands in the performance space.
Spring Awakening: A Sin of Omission runs at the Looking Glass Theatre through July 17. Tickets are $18, and there is a $15 price for students with ID.