O Beautiful addresses difficult but worthy questions
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 23:10
Thursday night, the Connecticut Repertory Theatre previewed their production of “O Beautiful” at the Jorgensen Theater. The play is a close examination of the effects of political polarization on contemporary American life, mixing humor with sharp political, social and religious critique. “O Beautiful” even employs the use of historical figures like Jesus, Joan of Arc and many Founding Fathers.
The play follows the lives of two Delaware high school students: Lennie Ryan, played by Coles Prince, and Alice Fletcher, played by Hannah Kaplan. Lennie faces the bullying of his peers after he embarrasses himself at the school talent show, and Alice struggles to deal with a rape and the subsequent unwanted pregnancy. Prince’s performance was good all around. I found his interpretation of the shy, existential teenager to be spot on. Kaplan performed similarly well. Her delivery really allowed the audience to empathize with her position. She was able to depict the hardships of teen pregnancy, especially when surrounded by uncompassionate people.
Another noteworthy performance was that of Lennie’s mother Linda, played by Olivia Saccomanno. In the beginning, we do not see much of her character beyond her being the sole dissenting opinion among the parent characters on the subject of gun ownership. However, in the second act of the play, Saccomanno gave a real, passionate display of sorrow that brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience. Moreover, later in the play we see a demonstration of the character’s strength, brilliantly complementing her earlier sadness.
The character of American history teacher Ty Janaleris, played by Thomas Brazzle, was another well-played character. Brazzle perfectly captured the enthusiasm of the truly passionate and idealistic teacher. Another great performance came from Will Haden, who played the part of Jesus. Though his lines were seldom long, they had humor, and in many ways he was able to capture the wisdom that we as the audience would feel appropriate to his character.
“O Beautiful” also featured a “Glenn Beck”-style character named Simon West, played by Laurence Lau, who appeared intermittently throughout the performance. Not only was Lau able to perfectly emulate the ideological fervor that Mr. Beck employs, he was also able to bring an element of satire to the role that truly augmented the experience.
The play made good use of the technology that Jorgensen has to offer. Projected images formed the background scenery while the crew expertly and efficiently brought props onstage. While the play did not have a continuous musical soundtrack, it did make use of the Jorgensen sound system at particularly emotional scenes, employing a spine-tingling bass to emphasize the seriousness of the moment.
As a whole, “O Beautiful” might offend those who have strong social, political or religious leanings. However, I think it is at its core a play designed to challenge the viewer, imploring the audience to examine their preconceived notions with an unbiased eye, and perhaps even change them. This play asks difficult questions, and is well-worth the time for anybody interested in contemporary theater.