Rise recap: Tonally fudged
Opening night is just one full moon (or 18-and-a-half listens to the Parade cast album) away, but exclamatory disasters are punctuating the lives of our beloved Stantonians, so much so that perhaps no cast member will have met this gala with sanity intact.
Maashous is leaving! The Mazzuchellis are upset, but it’s young Caitlin (or Sadie?) who’s especially sad, as Caitlin (or Sadie?) has developed a crush on the family’s brother-squatter visitor. Poor Caitlin (or Sadie?).
Vanessa is MIA! She’s still keeping her distance from Lilette following their two-disc blow-out with bonus tracks, but now Ms. Suarez’s absence is pushing Lilette toward a new breaking point because the specter of this month’s rent now looms over the fractured mother-daughter relationship. Will Lilette make amends and rent before opening night?!
Robbie’s in pain! He receives a catastrophic prognosis from the doctor about his mother, who is quickly losing her battle to ALS. It’s his wish for her to be as comfortable as possible in her final days—and to attend the show and see the new side of Robbie which Melchior has unlocked. In his moment of need, he turns to Lilette, who is ferociously there for him, despite having come to a new realization earlier in the episode. Thanks to her feud with her mother and some uncharacteristically kind advice from Mrs. Strickland, Lilette has finally unlocked her heart’s thesis about Robbie: “I want to want you. I don’t want to need you.” And somewhere out there, an inspirational Instagram is quickly figuring out which filter to apply to which cursive font to post this immediately.
The Saunderses are fine! Fine, they’re fine, the adults insist, despite their major argument the previous night about Mr. Saunders forging Mrs. Saunders’ name on the PTA petition, and Mrs. Saunders effectively asking if her devout religious husband is gay. Simon’s sister Emma is now concerned about a potential divorce, as is poor Simon, who grows frustrated that his father won’t give him a straight answer about his mother’s straight question. Hearing about the idea of “compromise” triggers Simon both at home and on stage, and the tension is exacerbated by the ticking time-bomb that is Simon’s sexuality. He’s afraid to reveal himself and blow up the life he currently leads — a sad feeling that many gay teenagers can identify with in several ways, save for the unfortunate looming pressure of having just one episode left to deal with it.
Gordy is recovering! He’s helping out on the stage crew as an act of community service, recommended by his rehab program advisor. Gwen thinks his sudden appearance is all about her, but Gordy is inspired by his father (!) to reveal to Gwen his real intention — and how it relates to his alcoholism struggle. Perhaps, one could wonder, he should have reciprocated with this personal information during one of Gwen’s many vocal depressions about her personal pain; nevertheless, better late than never.
And then there’s the real meat of the episode: a forced, heavily censored, night-before-opening run-through of Spring Awakening that Mr. Mazzu greenlights in order to win over the final approval of Principal Ward and the PTA. All episode long, we see moments of rehearsal that hilariously demonstrate the detrimental changes Mazzu and Ms. Wolfe are forced to make to the “problematic” parts of the show. These parts, which are essentially the entire show, include: No “F” word, no “S” word, no masturbation, no sadism, no implication of molestation, no whipping, no cleavage, no caressing, no nighties, no God, no gays, and no piano teachers. Spring Awakening looks like Matilda by the end of it all, and the children are not happy, especially as solos are cut and hemlines are re-drawn. Exceptionally vocal about the changes is Simon, who straight-up cracks like Gretchen Weiners and blames the show and Lou for destroying his family.
Even Wolfe and Mazzu are pushed to frustration by the changes, but their mid-rehearsal fight is nothing compared to their tempestuous quarrel after Principal Ward and the PTA agree that the watered-down version is acceptable. In celebration, the principal makes the mistake of touching Ms. Wolfe’s arm, which Mr. Mazzu instantly deduces — far too perceptively — that Wolfe and Ward made some sort of back-room deal about all the changes. Lou doesn’t know what, he doesn’t know why, and he doesn’t know when, but he’s now convinced that Ms. Wolfe wanted to enact these horrible changes to the script. Truth be told, she did, but of course, she didn’t; she found a way to compromise — a skill she’s always had, regardless of the promise from Principal Ward that she could take over the drama program after they’re done. Her reluctance to censor the musical never once betrayed any indication that she wasn’t pained by each and every measure.
Rightfully so, she stands up for herself and explains to Lou that she was only standing up for him, which is completely true yet doesn’t sway Mazzu in the slightest. Of course he irrationally blows up at her, despite her argument that he did the literal same thing to her. Suddenly she’s the villain, mischaracterized and mistreated as she has been so many times before, and she storms out, lest Rise make it to this final episode without reminding us how bumpy Mr. Mazzu’s road toward redemption has been — and how, despite great strides in recent weeks, he still has such a problem easing on down it.