MANKATO — There is nothing shy about Minnesota State University’s upcoming production of “Spring Awakening.”
But, there is plenty of shame.
In a dichotomous production that pitches rock music against a moribund backdrop of repressive social values, sexual taboos of various forms are blown wide open on stage. The award-winning rock musical is based on a work originally written by German playwright Frank Wedekind in 1891. Banned at the time for its frank portrayal of rape, homosexuality, sadomasochism, abuse and abortion, the play remained controversial and relatively un-performed for decades afterward.
In its contemporary form, “Spring Awakening” focuses on a group of turn-of-the-century German youths struggling to make sense of their blooming sexuality. Suffering under draconian Victorian-era mores about sex and the self, youthful naiveté leads to painful and sometimes disastrous consequences.
Director Paul Hustoles said he taught the original play for 30 years and fully expects the graphic sexual (and lyrical) content will offend some audience members. But that, he said, only underscores the play’s driving mission — to challenge the uncomfortability we still harbor toward human sexuality.
“Indeed, that is what the play is about,” said Hustoles, who is also the chair of MSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance. “I think it is very disturbing. I think some people will leave or want to leave the performance because of this.”
Like many in the cast, Jake McInerney had to overcome his own uncomfortabilities in assuming the role of Melchior, a progressive and literate youth who serves as a sort of tutor to his sexually uninformed counterparts.
In one scene, Melchior is lying in a meadow when he is happened upon by Wendla, a shy yet curious young woman played by Callie Syverson, a junior in musical theatre. As Wendla recounts the discovery of her friend’s abuse, she asks Melchior to beat her with a switch so that she might feel the same pain. In a scene fraught with violent, lustful energy, Melchior complies.