Spring Awakening a Bold Statement at St. Ed's

Themes of abstinence and teen sex rail against Catholic values

Jackson Pant as Melchior in the Mary Moody Northen Theatre production of Spring Awakening (Photo by Bret Brookshire)

With shows like Cabaret in its back pocket, Mary Moody Northen Theatre at St. Edward’s University is no stranger to racy subject matter. However, its latest production, Spring Awakening – opening Thursday, April 4 – will dance on some commonly taboo topics: teen sex, abortion, homosexuality, suicide, incest.

It’s an interesting interplay definitely worth considering in the context of a Catholic university.

The dark antithesis of the classic feel-good coming-of-age story, Spring Awakening follows a group of teens in 19th century Germany struggling to understand their developing sexuality in a society that refuses to acknowledge its existence. But in this 2006 update of Franz Wedekind’s 1891 drama, the story of their unraveling lives is set to head-banging, fist-pumping rock & roll, the only musical genre raucous enough to capture pure, unadulterated teen angst.

While it will be exciting to see how director Danny Herman moves the actors around MMNT’s unique stage – a theatre in the round with raised platforms at each of the four corners – and how the young adult performers who are relatively close in age to their characters portray their struggles, the part of the show that I suspect will have both students and alumni – and maybe even a few faculty and staff – scratching their heads involves the play’s bigger moral implications. To oversimplify, Spring Awakening depicts how dangerous it can be for teenagers to be alone in their coming-of-age process and how necessary it is for adults to lead them in a comprehensive conversation about sexuality. The musical pretty clearly spells out the potentially disastrous consequences without that.

Yet, St. Edward’s is still a Catholic campus and subject to the views of the Catholic church, which holds strict positions about sexuality. While the queer representation in the musical reflects the accepting attitudes of the school’s Campus Ministry – it just started an LGBTQ book club to help improve its relationship with the queer community and has been sending students to San Francisco to serve LGBTQ youth for years – the school’s Health and Counseling Center remains unable to fully serve students by offering birth control for contraceptive use, though it may still be prescribed for a medical purpose.

While the theatre and the school don’t always have to be in step, there is a noticeable and interesting tensions when the two are pulling opposite directions, one that asks the audience to choose a side, or which side will give first. Since its 1891 inception, Spring Awakening’s controversial content has always challenged its audience, and its emergence at St. Edward’s Catholic campus will be no different.

Spring Awakening runs April 4-14, Wed.-Sat., 7:30pm; Sun., 2pm, at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre on the St. Edward’s University campus, 3001 S. Congress. For more information, visit the university website.

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Mary Moody Northen Theatre, St. Edward's University, Spring Awakening, Danny Herman

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