Rise recap: 'This Will God Willing Get Better'
It’s tech week, the highest-stress week in any theatrical endeavor, an intricate but rewarding process that favors those who can sense and anticipate the needs of others and exercise an extraordinary sense of patience onstage and off. And then there’s Lou Mazzuchelli, who by every known characteristic has proven himself to be completely ill-matched with tech week. By happy circumstance, however, it turns out that nobody at Stanton has strong enough emotional foundations to survive tech without a diva meltdown.
For Lou, it stems from the very upsetting lack of ticket sales for Spring Awakening, slower than a Pinter-directed Carousel. Not helping matters is the show’s poster (shockingly not in Curlz MT) which at least gives Lou a sense of pride in its finality: “It’s official! No turning back now!’ gushes the man who cancelled a show that already had half a set. The principal has returned, if only to make fun of Mazzu’s failing box office and over-enunciate the merits of Pirates of Penzance once more. So Lou buys a few extra tickets himself and works doubly hard to pitch the repressed-sexuality storyline to his students, but the frustration of the looming empty house, coupled with the realization that Robbie can’t, won’t, and never could really act, sends Lou into his first full blow-up over the production.
Robbie is testy, perhaps because he’s only just now realizing the toll this football-drama schedule has taken on his ability to do both. Last week, he couldn’t play football; this week, he’s realizing he can’t act. The only way he can act is if he’s in a scene with Lilette, because that’s when it feels real, which unfortunately is not how acting works, and is in fact literally the opposite of what it means to act. The smoking gun is the graveyard scene in which Wendla and Moritz are dead and Melchior mourns his lover and best friend in the show’s emotional climax. Robbie is colder than the Broadway community’s reception to The Little Mermaid (honestly it was fine!) and so Mr. Mazzu tries to lightly direct him, but Robbie lashes out and sort of half-quits the show.
Maashous’s meltdown comes out of nowhere. He is evidently still living at the Mazzuchellis (despite not scoring a Groupon for that family trip to Pittsburgh) when he gets the news that his birth mother has been released from “custody” (likely in the Chicago sense, but maybe Phantom?). Whatever her situation may be, she is now of sound-enough mind to have Maashous live with her again, which would thereby take him away from his foster mother (who…doesn’t even currently have him) and Stanton High as well (because it wouldn’t be Rise if someone didn’t transfer each week). Hurt and angry, Maashous takes out this potential upheaval on Mrs. Mazzu and her broken dryer machine, which he desperately tries to fix as a metaphor for his entire temporary relationship with the Mazzuchellis.
Gordy is fairly meltdown-less, surprisingly; then again, he’s not in tech. He’s in a rehab program, but according to his program leader, he’s doing fine but not fantastic, which we’re led to believe is attributable to the distraction of Gwen. She calms Gordy down, he says, which unfortunately is a saccharine statement that reminds her of exactly the Pleasantville attitude she’s trying to ditch. It’s all one big shame for Gwen, since she was just on the verge of maybe forgiving her father for no reason. She randomly decides she’s been too hard on Coach, and at the precise moment that she arrives at the motel to make amends by bringing him a slice of leftover pizza, she catches him at exactly the wrong split-second: when he’s ushering Vanessa into his motel room. You’ll notice this is the complete opposite of that time when a miraculous zero people saw Jeremy kiss Simon in the wide-open parking lot, but of course, Gwen shows up here in time to see the nine possible seconds it ever takes anyone to open a door. Anyway, the false-start sends her spiraling back toward rebellion as she doubles-down and pierces her nose in her dressing room, an act with which I have no practical experience but assume is far less chill than the clean, bloodless way Gwen does it. Ah, the magic of television. Also, she and Gordy f–k on a beach.
Now, on the opposite end of the sexual chemistry spectrum, Jeremy and Simon’s evaporates after Annabel tries to get Simon to “finish what they started” at the mill (recall: a virginal dry-hump mid-theft). Via theater circuit gossip, Jeremy learns that Simon and Annabel are in fact “doing it,” which elicits a confrontation in which Simon re-ups his promise to himself and to Jeremy that he’s definitely, totally, love-girls-so-much-yeah-man-they’re-so-hot-wow-yeah-girls-are-great-aren’t-they heterosexual. A crestfallen Jeremy thus calls off their entire relationship, onstage and off, resulting in stage chemistry that’s essentially the only thing less flaccid than Simon’s final failed attempt with Annabel. And then: epiphany!
Finally, we get the most unexpected meltdown yet, a two-hander between Sasha, the girl we barely met who got pregnant last week, and Michael, who is apparently her best friend? There’s some secrecy, and some confrontation, and some tender reconciliation of a good friendship…and yet it almost feels like Rise is punking us with this sudden plot point, daring us to invest emotionally in this crippled relationship which we only found out existed 42 minutes prior. Another show would realize that perhaps a trans boy defending his pregnant best friend’s right to an abortion is a very interesting storyline to tackle. Not Rise! No, let’s have more scenes in laundry rooms!
If anyone needs me before next week, I’ll be doing a YouTube spiral on the other character who has been unceremoniously shelved all season: that random girl in “Touch Me” who belts and riffs and basically is the only reason left to see Spring Awakening at this point.