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Theatre students tackle the risque ‘Spring Awakening’

Courtesy of MCT

Ohio State students play German youths who die using abortion pills and ponder suicide while struggling with the discovery of their sexuality in the tragic comedy “Spring Awakening.” It will be showing at the Thurber Theatre Thursday through March 5.

“These heavy themes are rarely dealt with in the right fashion,” said Kyle Rutkowski, a third-year in theater who plays the role of Otto in the play. “For a college audience, adolescence wasn’t exactly that long ago. Most of us can personally relate to these themes of sexual discovery, abuse and aggression.”

The show plays out the sexual urges teenagers can have and shows the consequences ignorance to sexual activity during adolescence can have on both males and females, said Mackenzi Flannery, a first-year in theater who plays Wendla Bergman.

“The play is tragic and dark, but opens our eyes to the stark reality of a young adult’s struggle and the consequences of censoring their knowledge,” she said.

Flannery’s character is a naive 14-year-old girl who has sex with Melchior Gabor, a more sexually experienced child, without knowing the consequences.

“She is a tragic character that shows the extreme outcome of censoring a young child from the most basic facts of life,” Flannery said.

Wendla longs for knowledge. She pleads with Melchior to hit her so she can feel a man’s touch. She then meets Melchior in the hayloft and has sex with him, ignorant to what could happen as a result of their actions, Flannery said.

“Her mother bitterly tells her what she has done at the last minute,” Flannery said, “but not in enough time to save her from the abortion that ultimately leads to her death.”

Flannery was initially concerned about her parents’ reaction to the sex scene her character is involved in on stage. She ultimately decided the show “was not in any way graphic,” although it includes scenes with sex, masturbation and suicide, she said.

Jimmy Bohr, an OSU assistant professor and director of “Spring Awakening” said he hopes the show will provoke discussions of the difficult issues presented in the play that might otherwise be “swept under the rug.”

“The entire play is important,” he said. “It brings up issues of teen suicide, abortion, homosexuality and sexual identity, all subjects that are still important and controversial in today’s world.”

Flannery views the play as a service to the teens that have experienced some of what the show’s characters go through.

“The play, to me, is sort of a homage to all of the young adults who go through this kind of struggle and to all of those who have suffered from the tragedies and difficulties that sexuality can cause,” she said.

While Flannery’s character is struggling with her pregnancy, another character, Moritz Stiefel, can’t handle the bullying of his peers and teachers.

“Moritz crumbles under the pressure of school and society’s standards and eventually kills himself,” Flannery said.

Because of its graphic illustration of teen sexuality and other controversial issues, “Spring Awakening” was banned from production in Europe and the United States from its creation in 1892 until the ‘60s.

“It is still considered one of the most controversial, yet accomplished works in German dramatic literature,” Bohr said.

The 32 undergraduate students who make up the cast went through a “rigorous audition and callback process” as they do for each of the seven shows the Department of Theatre puts on each season, Bohr said.

Flannery initially was unsure of being a theater major. As a cast member in some of the department’s productions this season, she found her passion.

“The staff really wants to create the best experience and the best art they can, and on top of that (they) really want you to succeed as an individual,” she said. “It ended up being the perfect fit for me and now I can’t imagine ever doing anything else here.”

Flannery felt privileged to be a part of a play with a long history and controversy.

“Being able to tell that story and do justice to those almost heroic characters was both an incredible task and honor,” she said.

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