Based on a play by Frank Wedekind
Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Book by Steven Sater
Directed by Wade Hair
Musical Direction by Don Hopkinson
Starring Max Herskovitz and Ariana Morales
Breakthrough Theatre, Winter Park Florida
I grew up in this 19th century culture of Germanic solidity – failure was punished with a stick, sex was never discussed, and the word of authority was sufficient for anyone under any circumstances. In this world a questioning intellectual like Melchior Gabor (Herskovitz) is bound to have trouble. Latin and Greek are trivial, he understood the mechanics of sex and explained it all to his best friend Moritz (Bret T Fox) in writing, and he bragged about not believing in God or anything else. Little Wendla (Morales) asks her Mother (Cynthia Ros McClendon) about sex, and she’s too embarrassed to hit even the low points, and leaves Wendla vulnerable to her natural urges. Beyond this, it’s a spiral to total destruction – failing grades lead to family disgrace, there’s suicide, rape, pregnancy, masturbation, homosexuality, and some really nice music.
This 2006 adaptation by Duncan Sheik and Steve Sater takes the original 1891 story and stream lines it – the original always feels like your digging though a thrift shop looking for a matching outfit. But here we find a central character in Gabor, and everyone else serves to illustrate his ill fated journey into sexual self discover. The cast handles their roles well – Herskovitz is self assured and above the petty bourgeoisie standards of his instructor (Stephen Halpin). Fox’s Moritz really does seem as if he will die if he finds out the truth about the origins of babies, and the girls surrounding Wendla (Alexandra Milbrath, Adriana Milbrath, Erynn Hair) mix the innocence and bile of teenagers competing for something they don’t understand, but realize is significant – the acceptance by the boys.
It’s the music and choreography that hold this together. The music is 1990’s, not 1890’s and the stomp line dancing takes us out of the suffocation of Wilhelm II’s Germany. There’s hardly a clunker in this set or tunes, “Mama Who Bore Me” and “Don’t Do Sadness / Blue Wind” were particularity heart wrenching, and Gabor’s “Totally Fucked” mixed the misery of a random fate with the helplessness of knowing you’re the fall guy preserving the status quo. A bit of bait is dangled here, Moritz want to flee to America but doesn’t have the 90 marks for a ticket. In retrospect, he might have become a bachelor farmer up around Crivitz, but would have been speared the humiliation of flunking out of school and being shot in WWI. I’ll say this – Breakthrough has put some lipstick and silk stockings on this pig, and made it beautiful.
For more information, please visit http://www.breakthroughtheatre.com