Having never seen the multiple Tony Award winning “Spring Awakening” before, how happy I am that this was my first experience of it. Based on a controversial 1891 play, the setting is a strict Lutheran village where young people are kept apart by gender while under an oppressive education that stifles curiousity and labels many as failures. A young girl asks her mother about sex and is answered in abstractions. A young boy uses his intelligence to question dogma and is persecuted for hedonism. A confused boy is mocked and humiliated into a deep despair. The awakening of these innocents is everywhere blocked and distorted until they find their own truth in sexual expression. In this exquisite modern ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the reckless passion of youth leads to tragedy as the adult world crushes their intensity for life.
This Deaf West Theatre production is performed simultaneously in American Sign Language and spoken English, which adds an almost balletic grace to the entire evening. One is soon unaware of whether an actor speaks with voice or hands, as the words are rendered smoothly for both hearing and non-hearing audience members. This exquisite sleight of hand transports the story to Shakespearean levels of dramatic power and there is magic afloat, whether dialogue is spoken, signed, or expressed through erotic movement.
Outstanding in the huge and excellent cast are Austin McKenzie and Sandra Mae Frank as the star-crossed lovers; Daniel N. Durant and Lauren Patten as tormented outcasts, and Daniel Marmion, Natacha Roi and Troy Kotsur as parents and/or teachers. The band, composed of violin, cello, viola and drums, gives vital energy to the dynamic rock/pop score.
Beautifully directed by Michael Arden, with dazzling choreography by Spencer Liff, and superb musical direction by Jared Stein. Based on the play by Frank Wedekind, the book and lyrics are by Steven Sater, with music by Duncan Sheik. This version is being presented by Deaf West Theatre in association with The Forest of Arden.
At Inner City Arts, 720 Kohler Street, Downtown L.A. For reservations call (818) 762-2998 (voice) or go to www.deafwest.org. Photos by Tate Tullier.
Also reviewed in the October issue of NOT BORN YESTERDAY.