‘Spring Awakening’: an exploration of innocence

Robin Gracia

The Empty Space will be showing 'Spring Awakening' on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Jan. 31 through Feb. 16
The Empty Space will be showing ‘Spring Awakening’ on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Jan. 31 through Feb. 16. (Photo by Lexi Philippi/The Runner)

Staff Writer

Adolescent lust and angst take center stage at The Empty Space Theatre during the opening of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical ‘Spring Awakening’. The controversial production, written in Germany in 1891 by Frank Wedekind, has been either banned or censored onstage since its original debut in 1906. The play explores the challenges facing adolescents in an early 19th century German community.

‘Spring Awakening’ combines folk-rock music with edgy choreography. The cast seamlessly weaves together tales of loss, repression and curiosity while captivating the audience with their raw energy. The play follows a group of young men and women on the cusp of adulthood battling the clutches of innocence and the taboo of temptation.

A shining example of the transition between virtue and knowledge would be when the character of Wendla, portrayed by 20-year-old CSUB student Taylor Dunn, asks her mother how babies are conceived. Her mother, brilliantly played by CSUB theatre professor Kamala Kruszka, humorously dodges the sexual lesson by informing Wendla that babies come from when a man simply loves a woman. Wendla’s sexual ignorance later becomes quite the scandal in her household with grave consequences.

The dynamic between parent and child in the play is crucial despite the large absenteeism of the adults. The authority figures appear seldom, yet seem intolerant and unapproachable. The role of the mothers and fathers begs the question: Do parents always know what’s best? Good intentions can have disastrous outcomes, as shown between several of the teens and their families. “These are very imperfect people,” said Kruszka, who acts as three mothers and two teachers in the play.

With no elderly wisdom as a guiding light, the youth take their emotional growth into their own hands. The girls discuss romances and wishes while the boys tackle their struggles with desire. The character of Moritz, animatedly played by Shawn Rader, makes spectators chuckle at his plight with “sticky dreams” and “mortifying visions” which haunt him by night. Cast members delicately walk the line of eroticism and exploration in a manner which is easy to relate to and honest.

The candid truth ‘Spring Awakening’ artfully addresses without being forward is the very first sexual experience. During the charged song “Touch Me”, the idea that self-exploration occurs before the first sexual encounter is brought to light. “We’ve all been there, we’ve all done it,” said Dunn, elaborating on the discovery of sexual self. “It’s something private, when you first explore your body. You touch yourself because you want to feel what’s changing about yourself.”

Dunn contends that ‘Spring Awakening’ covers every aspect of sex from homosexuality to bisexuality and even the first encounter between two young people. “It was done in a way that’s sacred, young and inexperienced,” she said, smiling.

According to Zachary Gonzalez, a 20-year-old CSUB communications major who is wonderfully cast as the character of Ernst, the play is “very honest and true” about the complications of attraction. The character of Ernst is “very conflicted,” said Gonzalez, because “Ernst wants to be a pastor with a wife and children but is attracted to men.” The balance between morals and yearnings as portrayed by Ernst reaches deep into the fibers of humanity, making the viewer internalize when they themselves have been in need of deliverance.

‘Spring Awakening’ takes on the sexual evolution of a group of sheltered teens while leaving room for the audience to make their own interpretations of the characters’ actions.

“The message of the play isn’t ‘you should do this or you should do that’ and it’s very open ended,” said Kruszka, because “when it comes to conversations about sexuality, it should be something that is open ended that gets people talking as opposed to one answer everyone should prescribe to.”

Those who attended the final dress rehearsal at The Empty Space to see ‘Spring Awakening’ left feeling exhilarated. Alexis Philippi, a photographer for the Runner and local theatre actress, 21, was one such person.

“I had the privilege of seeing ‘Spring Awakening’ and I was absolutely blown away by the talents of the entire cast,” said Philippi. “They were all riveting in their performance. The directors did a fantastic job setting the play up. The entire show is phenomenal and I highly recommend it.”

The Empty Space, located at 706 Oak Street, will be showing ‘Spring Awakening’ on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays starting Jan. 31 through Feb. 16. The doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8:00 p.m. Admission is donation-only, with a suggested donation of $10 for students and $15 for general admission.