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The Sublime to the Ridiculous 

Spring Awakening, currently on the boards at the comfortable Jewel Gallery at Magazine Street and Jackson Avenue, was Frank Wedekind's first major play. He wrote it in 1891, but had to wait until 1906 to see it on the stage. Wedekind was a performer himself. He sang and acted at The Eleven Executioners, which was an artist's cabaret in Munich -- part of the first great wave of cabarets that swept Europe after the success of Le Chat Noir in Paris.

There was something a bit bohemian and scandalous about these cabarets. That aura contributed to their glamour. So it's not surprising Wedekind's play should have hit a nerve. The awakening referred to in the title is sexual. And the vernal connection seems to imply the cosmic suitability of adolescent horniness. But, if the play is an idyll to the end of childhood, it's a dark idyll, indeed.

Spring Awakening is co-directed by Lane Savadove and Anne-Liese Juge Fox. Savadove is the founding artistic director of a theater company called EgoPo Productions, which boasts commendatory quotes from the Village Voice and other papers. We know his work from an extravagant and extravagantly controversial production last year of Swerve by local playwright R. J. Tsarov. That production showed an imaginative visual sense. There were banks of TV monitors and a very deep stage that was, in fact, a warehouse space. The controversial element was whether the director's vision enhanced or obscured the play's meaning.

I mention Swerve, because the EgoPo production of Spring Awakening also shows visual flair; it tries to use the visual as a conveyer of meaning, somewhat in the manner of a dream. Who would ever imagine that a meadow conceals and, in a sense, constitutes the underworld. But sex, love, lust and death are woven through this tale. And, after all, a cemetery is a kind of park -- albeit, dedicated to loss.

The actors -- Matt Driscoll, Ian Hoch, Rebeka Johnson, Nick Lopez, Spencer McGillicutty, Daiva Olson, Daniel Rubin, Gwenevere Sisco, Kevin Smith and Catherine Weiss -- bring a healthy dose of energy and commitment to the story of a group of school kids coming of age. For me, a bit more modulation in volume would have helped, for the quieter, subtler moments were the most arresting.

From the sublime, where can one go but to the ridiculous? Le Petit opened its 88th consecutive season with A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine by Dick Vosburgh and Frank Lazarus. This clever musical confection was nominated for a raft of Tony Awards in 1980 and won one for choreographer Tommy Tune.

The main stage auditorium at Le Petit is getting an overhaul to the tune of $1.5 million, so A Day in Hollywood is being presented in Teddy's Corner, which has been spiffed up to host the entire season.

The concept of A Day in Hollywood is bizarre, but fun. It takes place in the lobby of Grauman's Chinese Theatre -- known for its famous feet in the sidewalk cement. The cast members, who are quite irresistible, all play ushers (among other things). In keeping with the feet theme, there is a sort of second-floor dance runway that allows us to glimpse the feet, and only the feet, of additional dancers. Susan Grozier, Clayton Mazoué, Matthew Mikal, Brian Rosenberg, Bryan Wagar and Amanda Zirkenback create a zany, star-struck review. They sing and dance and even play instruments.

The second act is, so to speak, the movie that's on inside Grauman's. A Night in the Ukraine is meant to be the Marx Brothers film that never happened but should have. It's based loosely on Chekhov's The Bear. At least that's what they say. I suppose "loosely" is the operative word here.

The cast from the first act now plays the Russian household of Mrs. Pavlenko, a rich widow -- as well as Chico, Harpo and Groucho, who wreak their own brand of surreal havoc. This sounds like it could be trying, and I suppose it could be, but this cast has a fine sense of timing and absurdity. A tip of the hat to all of them and to co-directors Sonny Borey and Derek Franklin and choreographer Karen Hebert.

click to enlarge The cast of Spring Awakening, co-directed by Lane Savadove and Anne-Liese Juge Fox, brings a healthy dose of energy and commitment to this coming-of-age story.
  • The cast of Spring Awakening, co-directed by Lane Savadove and Anne-Liese Juge Fox, brings a healthy dose of energy and commitment to this coming-of-age story.
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