|From "Spring Awakening" on stage at the Porchlight Theater until June 2.|
By Caren Jeskey
Germany, 1890. The usual societal dilemma, feed the rich or feed the poor, was at hand. Chancellor Leo von Caprivi was not popular with the elite, as he sought to also address laborers' rights. A sheltered girl, a student of a cruelly authoritarian institution of higher learning, had just turned 14. She begged her mother to tell her the truth about where babies come from. Her sister had just had a second child. The girl, Wendla, could wait no longer. Her mother relented and sat down in a sturdy high backed wooden chair. Wendla hurried to sit on the floor at her mother’s feet, laid her head in her mother’s lap and looked off into the distance, waiting. Mother’s face was panic stricken. She had no idea what to say. She finally covered the girl’s face with her apron — oh the shame of it! — and launched in.
“For a woman to bear a child, she must… in her own personal way, she must… love her husband. Love him, as she can love only him. Only him… she must love— with her whole… heart. There. Now you know everything.”
I watched this scene unfold in a front row seat on opening night at the Porchlight Theatre this past Thursday. I was the fortunate recipient of a +1 ticket from a dear friend who's more important than I. When Wendla stood up and sang to us, desperately trying to figure out what the heck her mother had just said, time stood still in that way that only live theater can do. Being in close proximity to humans emoting strongly, rather than looking at pixelated actors on a screen, is an intimate affair. More so now. I felt exposed and awkward about eye contact, seeing as we were so close. I felt vulnerable and did not stifle sobs when a young character committed suicide. It was all so tragically relevant.
Some of you know that I am describing "Spring Awakening," Frank Wedekind’s first major play, that he wrote in Germany with a backdrop of social unrest and mores based on repression, control and delusion, rather than any semblance of the realities of human behavior and sexuality. Welcome to 2022 America.
Now that Wendla understood she was to love a man in her own special way, and her budding curiosity and hormones longed to know more, she soon thereafter had her first tryst with a young man from her school (that was of course segregated by assumed gender). She had no idea what was about to happen, but his kisses and expert cajoling led her to become more and more relaxed, and then submit. Earlier we heard him speak to a friend about the art of charming a woman from the point of saying no to saying yes. You can call that what you will.
When repression reigns supreme, terrible things happen.
Wendla did not know that what she and the boy had done is how babies are made, since no one ever told her. She was forced to have an abortion, and died. As we creep back to the dark ages around the right to choose, the play was apropos. Humans have always, and apparently will always, fail at nurturing others on an epically large level.
The good news today is that on a much smaller level, we can find ourselves at a quality performance with expert musicianship and a well trained and talented cast on a cool Spring night. You and I will likely not be forced to an untimely death with a dangerous medical procedure to avoid shame. I feel ever so grateful to have been born with opportunity.
I delightfully found myself sitting next to an actor and Jeff Awards judge who pointed out that the room was full of writers. So this is where the cool kids hang out. I like it and I will be back for more.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” — Tale of Two Cities, Charles DickensIt is, has always been, and perhaps will always be.