Despite the temperature fluctuations, there can be little doubt that nature has awakened from its winter slumber. Life has begun stirring in the trunks and branches of trees, erupting in green leaves. Vibrant flowers are blossoming everywhere, stimulating our senses. At Mad Horse Theatre, another primal spring awakening is under way.

The theater is closing out its 25th anniversary season with Frank Wedekind’s “Spring Awakening,” which explicitly chronicles the coming of age of four teenagers, and their friends, in Germany in the late 1800s.

“Spring Awakening” was a contemporary piece when Wedekind wrote it in the winter of 1890-91. The highly controversial play premiered under censorship in Germany in 1906 and came to New York in 1917. Public outcries of obscenity closed the New York production after only one night.

Jonathan Franzen has since translated the play and the script became the basis for the 2007 Tony award-winning musical of the same name. Mad Horse, utilizing Franzen’s translation, is restaging the original, non-musical, production.

A lot has changed since “Spring Awakening” premiered 105 years ago. There is less innocence now and more forthright conversation about sex, sexuality and sexual orientation. Gone are the days when teenagers believed storks brought babies. Still, teenagers today face many of the same issues, including mood swings, physical changes, new urges, uncertainty, insecurity and the pressure to fit in and succeed at school.

The black comedy takes a raw and poignant look at the difficulties young people face and the tragic circumstances that can arise: alienation, suicide and teen pregnancy. Nothing is off limits.

Mad Horse has assembled a cast of 20 to take on this hard-hitting, three-act production. The ages range from 13 to 70, with many of the cast members in high school.

The adult performances in the productions are without a doubt strong. Cast members include Mad Horse veterans Maureen Butler (Mrs. Bergmann), Chris Horton (Headmaster Hart-Payne/Locksmith), James Noel Hoban (Mr. Gabor/Prof. Fitztongue/Uncle Probst), John Hickson (Dr. Seltzer/Prof. Killaflye) and Mad Horse newcomer Kathryn Perry (Mrs. Gabor). But, it’s the younger members of the cast, as a whole, that are really the heart and soul of the production.

The story revolves around the intertwined lives of four teenage characters: Moritz Stiefel, Melchior Gabor, Wendla Bergmann and Hansy Rilow. Dylan Chestnutt, Nate Speckman, Grania Power and Joe Bearor deliver standout performances in these roles, bringing both the sarcastic humor and the gut-wrenching drama of the story to the stage.

Chestnutt, a high school student, is eerily spellbinding in his dialogue-intense role as Moritz, a student in the grips of a nervous breakdown. The audience feels his character’s anxiety and confusion. And, the panic on his face and in his eyes is amazingly realistic.

The audience also feels the anguish and uncertainty of Speckman’s Melchior and the doe-eyed innocence of Power’s Wendla.

University of Southern Maine graduate Bearor boldly tackles some of the play’s more taboo subjects, such as masturbation and homosexuality.

“Spring Awakening” remains relevant today. And, in spite of the societal changes, addresses issues that are still controversial and uneasy topics for many. Mad Horse delivers an uncompromising rendition that is thought-provoking and well worth checking out.

 

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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