I missed Gaieties my freshman year and couldn’t muster the hype to really get into it sophomore fall, so I walked into MemAud on this year’s opening night with my frosh residents in tow, hoping to get a glimpse of the Gaieties joy so many experience their first quarter at Stanford. Ram’s Head Theatrical Society’s 105th incarnation of the Cal-bashing classic did not disappoint (though it bashed Cal less than usual, which I appreciated. It’s not cute to disparage your enemies, especially when those supposed enemies are the providers of the best public education in the world. But that’s beside the point.). From a killer cast to prolonged moments of rollicking laughter, this year’s Gaieties of Future Past is a celebration of so much of what is specifically, integrally Stanford. There’s little that’s inherently cool here; nobody looks twice at the new student obsessed with bondage, just as over-eager frosh are equally excited about joining a capella and Taiko.
The show is carried by freshmen Isabela Angus (Roo Mate) and Austin Zambito-Valente (Dave Packard), whose talents are unquestionable and excitement to be onstage is palpable. Though it takes longer to warm up to Brenna McCulloch (Polly Plain) and Minh-Anh Day (Bill Hewlett), once they’re on a roll, they’re as much of a force as their aforementioned counterparts. The ensemble is strong, bolstered by an operatic solo from Chloe Wintersteen (Jane Stanford), and an excessively there-for-you but well-intentioned RA (Malaika Murphy-Sierra).
Though the profound moments of the show are sometimes lost in how on-the-nose they are, the underlying message of each generally shines through: rejection is not failure, communication is a prerequisite to respect, and, shockingly, you don’t have to do everything your parents ever wanted. Gaieties is over the top at times, but charmingly so. Sure, it doesn’t really make sense to have a Jam Pac-d dance interlude, but the number is dope, and it’s a showcase moment for another student group that contributes to the myriad of divergent activities that the show aims to embrace. Justin Ruggiero’s lighting design adds excitement to a basic set, and — except for the occasional MemAud sound glitch — the technical aspects of the performance were smooth and the right level of glitzy (not very).
Most importantly, perhaps, Gaieties is funny. And not just Stanford funny (though from Karel-can-turn-left jokes to white male president jokes, it’s plenty Stanford funny) but actually funny. Some of the humor misses, like Carter Burr-Kirven’s incapable-of-evil Sunny Danger, but much more of it is hysterical. And the funny moments aren’t just one-liners. Instead, especially in the HP scenes, they’re built into the music and worked in as through-lines. The best moments strike a balance between self-referential humor and externally understandable quips: one-offs about file types (zip files are compressed!), white suburbanites shopping at Trader Joe’s, and HRC taking a swig from a fifth.
Gaieties of Future Past is simple: the script is meant to elicit an audible “awww” in touching moments, not inner turmoil and tears. But the simplicity — and the resulting elation the show elicits, plot holes and kick lines aside — is sort of the point. There’s so much that’s great about this place; it doesn’t hurt to spend an evening (or three) dancing about it. Sitting in my room writing this and listening to my freshmen yell in the hall about how they “totally ship Hewlett and Packard so hard,” I’m reminded of the comfort of embracing a simple love for this school that I’ve come to appreciate in a more complicated way.
Images courtesy of Frank Chen