Spring comes early

A master class in sex ed from Chico State theater department

Wendla (Alexandra Geringer) and Melchior (Hugo Fowler) discover each other on the Wismer Theatre stage.

Wendla (Alexandra Geringer) and Melchior (Hugo Fowler) discover each other on the Wismer Theatre stage.


Chico State School of the Arts presents Spring Awakening tonight, Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m., in Wismer Theatre.
Tickets: $6-$15.

Wismer Theatre
PAC 135, Chico State

At the conclusion of Spring Awakening’s first act, there is a scene of frank sexual congress, which includes a real live breast—roughly groped—and male buttocks, thrusting heartily. Within the intimacy created by a small, live-theater performance, the moment still has the ability to surprise, if not quite to shock. And in a coming-of-age story about shame, sexual awakening and puritanical repression, it’s also a brilliant move, forcing, as it does, the audience to confront its own reactions, whatever those may be.

My own reaction was to ask myself, “Why? Why does this happen every time I ask my mom to be my date?” The one, only, and absolutely last time I ever brought my mom to a party when I was in college, it turned out to be a musky-aired, sexually themed co-op thing with hardcore pornography projected onto the walls, and bedrooms quickly turning into tangles of limbs, breasts and genitals. Immediately upon entering, I lost my kindergarten-teacher mom, and after a frenzied, fever-dream search, I finally found her: unspeakable images being projected on her sweater, and her eyes as big and frozen as double-D silicone implants.

Forgive that digression; the point of it was just to admit that I, too, was facing my own shame and the lingering traces of puritanical repression.

Directed by Joel P. Rogers, with assistant director Sue Hargrave Pate, from the script by Steven Sater, Spring Awakening is the multi-Tony-award-winning rock musical, based on the controversial and oft-banned 1891 German play of the same name, by Frank Wedekind.

The neat trick of Spring Awakening—which is set in late-19th-century Germany and witnesses several teenagers (played by actors in their 20s) as they face their burgeoning sexuality in an age of repression and enforced ignorance—is to give these repressed German teens the language they need to describe their inner turmoil: some angsty pop-rock-and-rollicking, foot-stomping dance moves! (Among cognitive linguists, there’s a longstanding debate between those who think language merely expresses thought, and those who hold that one’s particular language in some way constrains and determines their thought. Among the many things Spring Awakening made me consider was what it must have been like to be a teenager before the “language” of rock ’n’ roll.)

The show was very well done. At two hours, 20 minutes, it never sagged for a moment. The acting was convincing all around, and the dance numbers were performed with energy and verve that brought to life the groping, confused passion of the inner teenage life, especially for the song “The Bitch of Living.” The set design and production was also excellent, allowing the actors to transition seamlessly between the characters’ outer and inner lives. Alexandra Geringer was particularly good as Wendla, both in terms of the conviction of her performance and the beauty of her voice.

If there’s anything in this production to be critical of, perhaps it’s that a bit of the humor of the script seemed to fall through the cracks.

As the lights went down on that bared butt, at the close of the first act, and went up instead on the bared-teeth, wide-eyed smiles in the mostly college-age, mostly female audience, I found myself thinking about how radically the sexual context of young people has changed since the time of Wedekind’s play. The pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction. I hesitate to align myself with Christian Conservatives here, but—though no one would want to return to 19th century Germanic repression—in this era of easily accessible pornography and casual hook-ups, where much of the mystery and magic of sex has been dissipated, what, too, have we lost?

And as my mom so astutely pointed out after the performance: Isn’t there something repressive and puritanical still strangely woven into our hyper-“liberated” modern sexuality?

Good point, Mom, but can we talk about something else?