July 16, 2009

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Germany, France, England
Peacock Players and Best Foot Forward Productions stay (mostly) pre-20th century
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Spring Awakening
Peacock Players are producing a play that had one performance in New York in 1917 and faced charges of obscenity. Set in provincial 1892 Germany, Frank Wedekind’s story of Spring Awakening put teenage sexuality, suicide and abortion in the open.

Wedekind used humor with topics that aren’t usually treated comically, said Peacock director Timothy L’Ecuyer. He thinks that helps address the teenage issues without the script becoming “overly angsty.”

L’Ecuyer chose Jonathan Franzen’s 2007 translation, which he found to be a little more accessible to the modern audience than the “gold standard” by Eric Bentley.

“What’s been really interesting is that so many teenage cast members, who are the ages of the characters they are playing, said ‘Oh, my god, this is my life,’” L’Ecuyer said.

The German play inspired a rock musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, which opened on Broadway in 2006. In the musical, Wendla’s being kept in the dark about how babies are made ends in tragedy. Other characters sing about their own taboo tragedies, while trying to understand what’s happening to them.

The musical closed on Broadway in January 2009 with Peacock alum Alexandra Socha of Nashua playing Wendla. L’Ecuyer said the story is pretty much the same in the original straight play and musical. Although there are some differences in minor roles, both focus on the same four main characters. Peacock features Alyssa Dumas of Manchester as Wendla, Tyler Christie of Hampstead as Melchior, Cameron Van Dyke of Brookline as Moritz and Kyle Goleman of Nashua as Hansy.

“It’s really been interesting to work on it,” L’Ecuyer said. After spending time with the script, he thinks he can see places where inspiration for the musical came from. For instance, the Broadway cast pulls hand microphones out to sing directly to the audience. “There are really clear moments in the play, to me,” where Wedekind talks directly to the audience through the characters, L’Ecuyer said. L’Ecuyer said he looked to Socha for feedback a few times during preliminary stages of Peacock’s production.

Peacock Players is an educational youth theater company. L’Ecuyer said he’s heard some parents say Spring Awakening has been a way to initiate conversation with their kids.

As for watching it with your parent or teen: “It’s done in a deconstructed style, so a lot of it is abstract. Things are mostly suggested rather than recreated.... It was directed with the knowledge that my youngest cast member is 14,” L’Ecuyer said.

L’Ecuyer said he thinks the Peacock production does a good job of dealing with the issues without dwelling on them, and is tactful yet doesn’t avoid talking about them, he said.

Peacock’s other “Main Stage” performance this summer will be Grease, Aug. 7 through Aug. 9.

The Three Musketeers and A Mid Summer Night’s Dream
The Bristol Old Vic in England commissioned playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me A Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo) to write a big Christmas show in 2006. He came up with a version of The Three Musketeers that adds a character of d’Artagnan’s sister.

The role replaces that of d’Artagnan’s servant — Sebine is disguised as the servant and becomes tangled in her brother’s search for adventure. “It really doesn’t change the story ... [there’s] just a different interpersonal relationship that he’s added to it,” said Robert Haas. And it’s an interesting role for women, in that there aren’t many other female roles that involve sword fights, Haas said.

Haas is directing this New Hampshire premiere of the script for Best Foot Forward productions. He’s also sort of the “go to” stage fight choreographer in southern New Hampshire — and this show has plenty of fights and gunfire, he said.

Haas has trained with the Society of American Fight Directors for 13 years, and has taught and choreographed stage combat for professional and community theater for about 10 years. The community company is performing outdoors on a football field with action taking place around the audience at Sandlot Sports and Entertainment in Sandown. The cast won’t have microphones, but a hill there creates great natural acoustics, Haas said.

The show’s scope is enormous, and logistics challenging, Haas said. He’s even been in contact with a Bristol Old Vic fight director about a particular weapon — Haas luckily met the Bristol director at a workshop in New York. The Three Musketeers runs July 18 and July 19; the same cast returns July 25 and July 26 to perform Shakespeare’s A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, this time under the direction of Andrea Stasio.

Best Foot Forward is using minimal sets, a modern-day setting and stereotypical social classes for this performance, Stasio said. The fairies in Mid Summer are represented as Dispatch- and Dave Matthews Band-listening 1990s-style hippies; the royals as Martha’s Vineyard-summering yuppies; with blue-collar players.

Stasio said inspiration came from a few movies, such as the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet, that use original language but a different time period in a way that makes it more accessible.  

Both shows run at about two hours plus an intermission. Bring a picnic, if you like. Stasio recommends bringing lawn chairs (or whatever you are most comfortable sitting in for two hours), sunblock, sunglasses, perhaps an outdoor toy for kids, and definitely bottled water.

There are no rain dates, and unless there is thunder or lightning, BFF intends to perform on time, Stasio said.


Coming of age
What: Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind, translated by Jonathan Franzen
When: Friday, July 17, at 7 p.m., Saturday, July 18, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, July 19, at 2 p.m.
Where: 14 Court St. Theater, Nashua
Tickets: $12-$15
Contact: 886-7000, www.peacockplayers.org.
Disclaimer from Peacock Players: “Please note that Spring Awakening does contain some mature content. Parental discretion is advised.” ?

Field day
Who: Best Foot Forward Productions
What: The Three Musketeers, by Ken Ludwig (based on Alexandre Dumas’ story), July 18-19
What: A Mid Summer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare, July 25-26
Times: Saturdays and Sundays at 4 p.m.
Where: Sandlot Sports and Entertainment 56 North Road, Sandown
Tickets: $10-$12
Contact: 641-6066, www.bestfootforwardproductions.org

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