February 21, 2019 – “Spring Awakening;” “Fun Home”

Two recent and concurrently-staged shibboleth shattering plays sabotaged perceived Panhandle social and sexual mores. 

“Spring Awakening,” based on the original 1906 play by Frank Wedekind and adapted as a musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik was performed at WTAMU.

“Fun Home,” based on Allison Bechtel’s graphic autobiographical novel and adapted for the stage by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, was performed at Amarillo Little Theatre’s Adventure Space.

These plays shared commonalities besides concurrency. They both won Tony Awards, both were musicals and both deal frankly with sexual coming-of-age as subject matter in ways I’ve never encountered on an Amarillo-area stage.

Alan Shankles, calls directing “Fun Home” one of the most gratifying experiences in his thirty-four years at ALT. Director Stephen Crandall notes that audiences shocked by the 21st century iteration of “Spring Awakening” are no different from those over a century ago in Germany.

There, Frank Wedekind’s portrayal of the sexual awakening of adolescents waved a red flag in the face of conventional bourgeois German morality, whose conservatism has current application.

“Fun Home” centers around Alison Bechdel’s odyssey for sexual identity in a highly-dysfunctional home and is the first Tony Award-winner to have a lesbian protagonist.

A relatable common theme running through each play expresses what we wish our parents had told us about physiology and the heart. The consequences of ignorance provide a chief source of tension in both.

A sampling of real or simulated actions offer a gauge of the content. For instance, homosexual kissing (both), homosexual (ALT) and heterosexual sex(WTAMU), abortion and death (WTAMU), suicide (both), S&M and group masturbation (WTAMU). Well, there was no nudity but this is still the Panhandle and Mary Poppins these ain’t!

From “Spring Awakening,” some of the lyrics are revelatory. Note: “The Bitch of Living;” “The Word of Your Body;” and “Totally F**ked!” The songs of “Fun Home are more of a continuation of the dialogue as opposed to an elaboration.

The staging for each play was minimal. In SA the musical accompaniment was in plain view and at times the musicians appeared responsive to the script.

Both plays demanded a lot from both the audience and the actors. Kudos to Jason Miller of “Fun Home” who plays the ocd control-freak closeted-gay father who commits suicide. Piper Laur, Victoria Fisher and Annika Spaulding play Alison Bechdel from youth to adult. Brava to all these ladies! They, and the directors, including Caitlin Campbell walked a slippery slope in creating this character arc.

Loud applause to the whole cast of “Spring Awakening,” but especially to Abbi Roe who played Wendla and Zach Perrin who played Melchior. Just like their Thespian predecessors in 1906, their roles, and those of their fellow cast members required incredible courage.

Courage is a quality we Texans can all understand, and the productions of both plays, in the face considerable disapproval, required both courage and confidence at many levels for both ALT and WTAMU.

So, those of you who think this Amarillo area remains retro with moral blinders to fix a corridor mentality and vision, you don’t know the arts, especially the theatre in these here parts.

That’s why we celebrate the arts here by saying: “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”

Coming Up: 21st – Christopher Atkins – Cello Recital – AC; Sara Beckham-Turner, American Opera Voice Recital – WTAMU; 22-Grace Hamilton Piano Recital WTAMU; 21 – 24 “The Tempest” – AC; 24- WTAMU Orchestra Concert; 22, 23 – Amarillo Symphony

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