UTC’s ‘The Sparrow,’ ambitious and lighthearted

November 3, 2017

“The Sparrow,” the newest play from Brandeis’ Undergraduate Theater Collective (UTC), is an ambitious show, relying on abstract dance scenes to tell its story. In its production, the UTC embraces the traditional aspects of the show while falling somewhat shorter on the potential of the material’s more abstract scenes.

The show tells the story of Emily Book, the titular “Sparrow,” a high school student moving back to her hometown 10 years after being involved in a bus crash which took the lives of the rest of the town’s second grade class. Her adolescent struggle for self-acceptance and the town’s struggle to accept her are complicated by the revelation that she has supernatural powers allowing her to fly and which she struggles to control. As much an exploration of high school and small-town culture as anything else, this production, directed by Leah Sherin ’19, creates a surprisingly compelling narrative about the world many Brandeis students have recently abandoned.

The production centers the dual moods in the engagingly fun scenes in Spring Farm High and the tense interactions between the leads. The ensemble creates a high school atmosphere which is wonderfully irreverent, characterized by relentless sarcasm and a lighthearted teen spirit. Some of the funniest scenes in the show come from the mockery from and towards the school jocks, played by Christian Ford-Harrington ’21 and Liam Gladding ’21, who could have walked out of “Dazed and Confused” with their amusing combination of confidence and ignorance. Similarly, the girls of the school exemplify both “Mean Girls” confidence and adolescent awkwardness alternately in a comedic whirlwind.

In other scenes, the ensemble falls away, leaving the lead characters to deal with the emotional issues of the show. They are led by Maia Cataldo ’20 as Emily, who confronts the audience with a scared teenager dealing with tremendous guilt, puberty and the responsibility of power all at once in a performance subtle enough to show the character’s arc into confidence and then transcendence. The other standout of the show is Rodrigo Alfaro Garcia Granados ’18 as the “cool” teacher Dan Christopher. Granados brings a truly impressive charisma to the role, though at times this interferes with the visibility of his character’s occasional discomfort and self-doubt. Caitlin Crane-Moscowitz ’20 shows the insecurities of would-be leader of the school Jenny McGrath with a touching realism while occasionally losing energy when Jenny takes charge.

The show does suffer some problems when it combines the lighthearted ensemble energy with the tension of the smaller scenes. The show makes heavy use of dance and movement to portray many climaxes of the show and many of these moments are harmed by the performers’ clunky execution of Hannah McCowan’s ’19 choreography. Abstract moments like the ones in the show naturally require the audience to be deeply invested in interpreting them and in many scenes several performers do not quite move with the fluidity required. Despite this trend, there are several scenes where the intention and execution come together perfectly, as during a reenactment of the bus crash and a dance with fetal pigs.

The production converts the SCC theater into a pseudo-black box space by placing the audience on the stage and using minimal set. In busy ensemble scenes this helps immerse the audience in the world while in smaller scenes it allows the audience a greater emotional connection. It also, however, creates a difficult blocking situation and in several smaller scenes actors’ lack of movement severely hampers important sightlines for various seats.

The lighting of the show, created by Noah Mark ’19, is simple and excellent, subtly directing attention and underscoring emotion with small changes in intensity and focus. The sound, created by Talia Loeb ’20 and assistant Jayla Mobley ’21, is also impressive in the way it emphasizes the mood and scores the dance scene. The set, in keeping with the black box feel, is almost bare. The principal set pieces, created by Molly Rocca ’20, are movable lockers used as both background and props carried by the actors, in a creative and dynamic use of the space.

Despite some problems, “The Sparrow” is an engaging show which manages to create fun moments and compelling drama. With its truly funny portrayal of high school and grimly realistic drama, it is an impressive production.

“The Sparrow” is playing through Nov. 5 in the SCC theater. For tickets, buy them online or in-person at the SCC or Spingold box office, or call 781-736-3400.

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