Moon Over the Brewery (Weston Little Theatre, 1998)
Spring Awakening (Equity Showcase, 1999)


Moon Over the Brewery
Weston Little Theatre, 1998
Stage Door Guest Review by Carol Ann Brown

It was a bit slow to start and this reviewer thought she noticed a few opening night jitters but the cast of the Weston Little Theatre’s latest production quickly settled into their roles and gave the audience a comedic look at the difficult emotions of family dynamics and the pain of growing up.

Moon Over the Brewery, set in a family home in a small town, allows a unique glimpse into the emotions faced by overly responsible 13 year old Amanda as she struggles to come to terms with allowing the family to evolve without her control. Growing up with mom and Randolph couldn’t have been easy and Warren doesn’t present himself as a prime addition to the group.

The cast of four, which includes two newcomers to the Weston Little Theatre group, are up to their roles; both the wildly exaggerated and the one-liner wisecracks. Lee Ann Harris, David Thomas Lynch, Carlo Pileggi and Val Tait are not newcomers to acting and are likely to be seen again on the stage.

The staging of this two act play produced by Lynne Atkinson and directed by Fiona Stewart with the competent crew of the Weston Little Theatre offers an entertaining opportunity to remember that self-protection can build walls that exclude the opportunity for new growth.

Spring Awakening
an Equity Showcase Theatre production at the
York Quay Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre in Toronto,
November 25-December 5, 1999

Stage Door Guest Review by Christopher Hoile

Frank Wedekind's tragedy Spring Awakening (written in 1891) is so far ahead of its time that it seems more like a contemporary play written by, say, Edward Bond set in the 1890's than a play actually written in that period. It seems so modern because of its theme--teenage sexuality--and its thorough critique of adult-run institutions--schools, the church, even
the family--which can deal with this awakening of sexual knowledge only by condemning and punishing it. Wedekind, however, avoids the didacticism of someone like Bond by focussing on the characters themselves and by showing us a range of responses to this growing sexual awareness both by the teenagers and by the adults. The play is a tragedy because it is the
adults who have made the world the way it is and who wield the power to crush any threat to that stability such as the seeming chaos of teenage sexuality.

If the awakening of sexuality is confusing to the adults, it is even more confusing to the teenagers themselves, and an exploration of these various feelings takes up the first half of the play. Ed Gass-Donnelly, the director and designer, has assembled an excellent cast of 18 actors, most of them young, for the 33 roles in the play. Of the teenagers, Aaron Poole, in his first professional appearance, is very effective as Melchior, a boy whose learning about sex has undermined his idealism and faith and made him believe that people are motivated only by egotism. Philip Riccio as Moritz, Melchior's best friend, is superb at portraying a boy crushed from outside by his parents' expectations of him and eroded from within by his feeling of a desire. Riccio easily negotiates the transitions in a crucial role that is by turns comic and tragic. Dylan Trowbridge, in his one long monologue, was absolutely riveting as a boy whose unfulfilled sexual desire has turned into an obsession with painted nude female figures close to becoming pathological. Holly Lewis ably plays Wendla, a girl who begins to equate sexuality in
women with suffering and is sadly proved correct when she has sex with Melchior. Melchior and Wendla are like Romeo and Juliet without the romantic love or like Faust and Gretchen without the idealism.

Among the adults, Colleen Williams is all too believable as Wendla's mother who never wants her daughter to grow up and can't bring herself to tell her the facts of life. And in the second act, Graham Harley steals the show as a sadistic schoolmaster who can barely conceal his glee at the prospect of expelling Melchior.

Ed Gass-Donnelly's work with Daniel Brooks shows in his minimalist staging. Virtually all the scenes on the bare stage are played on school desks and chairs or church pews, cleverly symbolizing the pervasive influence of the adult-run institutions so inimical to the children. One of the challenges of the play is that it is written in two differing styles. The first act, ending with the fatal steps taken by Moritz, Melchior and Wendla, is plays naturalistically. In the second act where we see the consequences of these steps the play become more and more expressionistic as we enter into the nightmare that the three main children experience. Gass-Donnelly expertly manages this transition. My main complaint is that I think he could have gone farther in adapting Samuel Elliot's sometimes awkward-sounding translation, although all the actors cope with it very well.
"Spring Awakening", like "A Doll's House" or "Miss Julie", is one of the key plays of the 19th century, and this production shows us why. Circumstances may have changed in 100 years, but Wedekind's portrayal of the confusion children feel in moving from innocence to experience and the threat adults feel at this awakening is still forceful and disturbing.



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