Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
“What’s a party without a few casualties?” asks Queenie in “The Wild Party,” this year’s Mainstage Musical. That seems to be a central reflection in this jazzy, dramatic, and thematically dense play that takes audiences into the 1920’s for a view of a truly wild party. The performance runs this weekend in LPAC at 8 pm on Friday and Saturday night, 2 pm on Sunday.
On a set of saturated reds and under the shadows of suspended bird cages and lamp heads, “The Wild Party” is set in a Manhattan apartment in the 1920s, where a Vaudeville couple: Queenie played by Sasha Shahidi ’09 and Burrs played by James Birney ’10, throw a party. ‘Casualties’ do, in fact, rack up, as the characters demonstrate the ways in which people love, use, hurt, and help one another. The atmosphere of dizzy decadence is heightened by great jazz and dancing, choreographed by Carmella Ollero ’09.
The music and lyrics of the play were written by Michael John LaChiusa and the book by George C. Wolfe. The story was based upon a controversial 1928 poem of the same name by Joseph Moncure March. The setting is integral to its presentation with the flappers and bathtub gin giving a compelling edge. As co-director Dan Perelstein ’09 observes, “hanging over the head of the informed audience is the fact that the Great Depression is coming,” and a sense of impending disaster is palpable throughout, despite raucous and colorful episodes and brilliantly funny dialog.
The Wild party is a continuation of an established collaboration between directors Dan Perelstein and Jackie Vitale ’09. The two selected the play together. “It’s a musical with substance,” explained Perelstein. “In many ways more like a play than a musical. They don’t want to try to fool us with anything, it’s not apologetic.” The play explores a range of attitudes towards how people interact with one another. Producer, Laura Wolk ’09 observes that “dealing with the subject matter itself is a challenge.”
Perelstein sees the show as exploring “the unreliability of love, performance versus reality (performance both on stage and in life), escaping hardships through sex, drugs, and how we deal with our anger.” Wolk elaborates, “It’s also about the complexity of love, it shows how a person can hurt someone while still loving them.” The energy of the cast and beautiful though occasionally shocking presentation of the play make it a wild and worthwhile experience.