A Lesson in Waking Up

One of my favorite venues in Washington, DC, is the Kennedy Center. I love its austere shell and the extravagant interior. Playing recently at the Eisenhower Theater was Spring Awakening, the Tony Award-winning play, and I sat thrilled by its story of the violent, passionate, fatal, and liberating awakening of a group of teenagers in 1860s Germany.  

Raised in a society dominated by religion, these children, to paraphrase the New York Times review, are dealing with a sexual awakening that completely upends their world. And while many will never be the same, some will never recover. There is abuse – physical and sexual; there is guilt and shame; there is pure pleasure and the refusal to deny that which is natural; and there are consequences to it all.

The acting and singing were superb, and the staging was phenomenal with the small space they had. The music, played by a small band in the background on the stage, was fantastic and surprising. Each song had a huge role in the storytelling – rock-and-roll riffs periodically bursting through more melodic scores, reflecting the inner angst of the teenagers.

Notable performances were Christy Altomare as Wendla, Jake Epstein as Melchior, Blake Bashoff as Moritz, Andy Mientus as Hanschen and Steffi D. as Ilse.

The subject of awakening fascinates me. It’s so easy to go through life asleep, not questioning belief systems, but accepting everything our parents and society tell us. But for some people, there is a moment of awakening that changes everything. I believe that oftentimes that moment is linked to something traumatic, world-shaking, brutal.

As the dust settles, we are left holding pieces of the life we knew before. And while the circumstances that brought us to this place may have been negative, this is actually a beautiful opportunity to create a more authentic life. It’s a time to breathe deep and examine perceptions, beliefs, actions, and lifestyle choices.

This is not a comfortable journey. Along the way, you may look at people who are still asleep and long for their slumber. But I think those who are honest with themselves would admit that, while being awake has its terrors, they would never willingly go back to sleep. Once you are awake, there is no point looking back. This is life now, and we can do it well or we can do it poorly. So we may as well do it well.

But it is the people who are awake who will make a difference in this world, who will begin to challenge the hypocrisy of those who are asleep, who will create something new and beautiful.

I felt all of this as I watched this play, and in the weeks since I’ve seen it the impact has gotten stronger. This is a brave play, dealing with difficult topics, and I highly recommend it to everyone. And I especially encourage parents of teenagers to watch the play with your kids and talk about sexuality. So much heartbreak could be spared if we could all deal with this topic in the open.

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