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Red Masquers' Awakening

A troupe revives a key play from theatrical history.

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Brave.

In the "telegram speak" of German Expressionism, that would be a good description of the Red Masquers' production of Awakening. Another word that leaps to mind would be "why," but reviving long-obscure turning points in theater evolution is fully in the job description of academia.

Director John E. Lane Jr., Duquesne University's director of theater arts, also adapted Awakening after J.M. Ritchie's translation of the original (Die Haidebraut, c. 1912). The playwright, August Stramm, is better known as a poet whose life and career was ended by World War I. Indeed, the play seems prescient of the turmoil of World War I and its aftermath in Germany, but the likelihood that it was written before the war indicates just how upset the Expressionists were with life.

Germany as a nation was still young and on a fast track from agrarian culture to world-class industrial society. Much of Europe was in various stages of this change, and many artists reacted with an emphasis on the subjective rather than the realistic. (Think of Edvard Munch's 1893 painting "The Scream.") Lane has written that Expressionistic theater strove "to eliminate all realistic detail to concentrate on only the essential actions and emotions. They eliminated specific locations, reduced characters to archetypes, ... concentrated on sharp contrasts in sets, lights and actions ... [and] condensed language down to its essential words."

What the audience faces is a pared-down black box of a stage with dim lighting, long silences punctuated by staccato dialogues and extreme emotions. Is there a plot? The relationship between the two unnamed (lead?) characters (gamely played by Tyler Jennings and Christina Gregory) seems to have hit a rift that is more than metaphorical. (Props to stage manager Rachael Fanale and her assistants, Taylor Brink on lights, Molly Hamelin on sound and, most likely, Lane himself for the special effects.) A mob of not-readily-discernible individuals threatens. Nature unleashes catastrophe, but salvation is possible.

Yeah, it can be hard slogging, but it's only 38 minutes long. Awakening was a big influence on the Expressionists and those who followed. Check out an important bit of theater history.

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