Fasback Productions, at the National Pastime Theater

A college professor once told me that the key to directing a play is learning how to read. From the looks of director Frank Alan Schneider’s production of Frank Wedekind’s turn-of-the-century masterpiece Spring Awakening, I fear Schneider may be illiterate. Wedekind’s text is darkly satirical and highly stylized, complete with characters named Professor Bonebreaker and Headmaster Sunstroke, but Schneider wholeheartedly encourages naturalistic acting in his 13-person cast, turning this protoexpressionist denunciation of the West’s fatally repressive sexual norms into a plodding after-school special. At times it seems as if Schneider can’t even hear his own actors. In the play’s final scene, for example, a decapitated corpse announces, “Here I stand with my head in my hands.” The actor’s head, however, appears fully in place. When a second character asks, “Why don’t you have your head on?” it becomes embarrassingly clear that no one on stage has any idea what’s going on.

Everything leading to this bewildering finale is equally muddled, with half the cast tripping over their words or mumbling incomprehensibly while the other half grope for big emotional moments, sinking the play into cheap sentiment. Wedekind’s genius lay in subverting a hypocritical bourgeois worldview, not in letting his characters get in touch with their feelings.