Waxworks had its academic debut this past weekend in the Adams Memorial Theatre of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. The play, written by Trina Davies and directed by Visiting Lecturer in Theatre Kristen van Ginhoven, takes place in the tumultuous salon of famed wax artist Marie Tussaud (neé Grosholtz) during the French Revolution. Overall, the play seeks to ask what status heroes and villains play in our national consciousness as well as how these statuses shift over long (or, in this case, short) periods of time.
Using a minimalist set and lighting plot, which featured completely mobile pieces and almost no blackouts, the play struggled a bit with establishing the location and feel of the French Revolution. While the barren set pieces comprised of untreated lumber and old tattered bed sheets certainly evoked expressions of the haphazard rioting of the revolutionaries, it ultimately failed to accurately communicate the large-scale nature of a nationwide rebellion that we are meant to believe was largely supported and driven by a small wax museum.
This fault fell in no small part on the relatively small size of the cast, which lost two members of “the mob” during the rehearsal process, leading to increased double-casting. Impressively though, the double-cast characters did a phenomenal job, through costuming and acting changes, of distinguishing their different characters so that anti-revolutionary figure Princesse de Lamballe, portrayed by Harriet Weldon ’19, could convincingly also portray a citizen of the republic hoisting heads up on a pike. In addition, the weight and large-scale nature of the rebellion was aided by impressive shadow play on the work of Visiting Lecturer in Theatre Natalie Robin.
The mother-daughter unit of the Grosholtz family, portrayed by Maddy Seidman ’17 and Paige Peterkin ’16, respectively, functioned powerfully and showed the poise of the future Madame Tussaud through the dark time of the revolution. Seidman portrayed both a calming comic relief figure as well as a tragic foil to Peterkin’s successful aromantic character of freedom who will go on to become the most well known artist in the history of her field. Peterkin’s male counterpart, Dr. Curtius, portrayed by Omar Gouda ’16, offers a wax artist of decidedly darker intentions, generally looking for personal gain and protection over morality and justice. However, Gouda’s performance blurs a necessary line so that by the end of the performance the audience is sympathetic to his circumstances, leaving a sour taste in their mouths following his exile and death.
In the end, the production provided an entertaining aperitif for a weekend night at the College. Many of the important themes of the play were perhaps too explicitly explained through sometimes-longwinded statements like Peterkin’s closing monologue. This may play in to Tussaud’s aesthetic, as Peterkin points out that the best way to display these carefully crafted art pieces sometimes requires putting up signs “just in case [the viewers] miss the point.” The writing and production overall succeeded in presenting the dark side of one of the most romanticized social movements in history.
The play was a fitting choice for a department that will be graduating many talents in June, including Peterkin and Gouda. After all, the College community cannot trap the performances and skills of this generation of young theater makers in wax in the way that Madame Tussaud does. The departure of the talented class of 2016 leaves the theater community wondering what the future may look like without this titanic group of artists. Waxworks is a resounding response to this question, with stellar performances across the board, a sign of a department that continues to take meaningful risks on new pieces of work. This reviewer looks forward with cautious anticipation to the full docket of theater pieces to be presented by theater-makers at the College in the year to come.