Live through this

Pub date September 17, 2008
WriterRobert Avila
SectionArts & CultureSectionStage

REVIEW Hey, kids! Wake up and smell the freedom! Outside the RNC, for instance, where a phalanx of Taser-wielding storm troopers recently did their dirty work on citizens practicing what civics classes used to call free speech. One 19-year-old there was beaten unconscious, hooded, hauled away, and beaten some more — subjected to what any dropout in years past would have rightly called torture. "Freedom" is Francophobe for fries, or else it’s merely the liberty of the ruling class to plunder with impunity, slurping up every last drop of blood from the rest of us like it was Heinz 57.

Am I exaggerating? My diction may have a salty 19th-century flavor, but it’s only appropriate, given this nation’s inglorious march backward to the future. It’s also appropriate, in its own way, that Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening (written in the 1890s) should be making a raucous but compromised comeback courtesy of Broadway. Deemed pornographic when it premiered in New York City in 1917, the German proto-expressionist work’s categorical attack on the deathly sexual repression and moral hypocrisy of the age becomes — after a lag time of roughly a century — a financially sound formula of faux teen empowerment and positive messaging. In its big show biz incarnation, the teeth of Wedekind’s restlessly outraged, poetical, funny, and morbid little play are filed down to dust, even as Steven Sater (book and lyrics) and Duncan Sheik (music) channel VH1 rebellion into some kinetic, tuneful, and exciting moments (heightened significantly by Bill T. Jones’ choreography). The talented young cast rocks unabashedly to the end. But that’s also where the schmaltz lies heaviest — all things wicked and corrupt being made tolerable again as characters dead and alive reunite for a throaty anthem to hope and purple summer and god knows what. Roll over, Wedekind. And tell Bertolt Brecht the news.

Through Oct. 12. Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m. (also Sat., 2 p.m.); Sun., 1 and 6 p.m., $30–$99. Curran Theatre, 445 Geary, SF.