The Ram’s Head Theatrical Society’s The Wild Party is an explosion of passion through music, dance, and acting. Based on a 1928 lyrical poem by Joseph Moncure March that was adapted to a musical in 1999, The Wild Party explores desire and gluttony in America’s Roaring Twenties through characters whose actions, in the words of director Nathan Large ‘18, are equal parts “animalistic instinct and internalized construct.” The Wild Party warns of the consequences of desire, but also reminds us that to want is to be human.
When you walk into Memorial Auditorium, you are greeted with the swing of ragtime by a powerful live band of trumpets, flutes, and drums, among other instruments. The band underscores the performance and serves as a strong background for each number. Although this is typical for a musical, The Wild Party’s live score is especially well-timed with its songs and acting. The beginning scene, for example, features an audial flourish as Queenie, the main character and starlet (Brooke Hale ‘20), throws open her mansion’s doors in a grand entrance, setting a tone of extravagance for the remainder of the show.
The songs are vibrant, distinct while also staying within the genre. Each performer is as strong a singer as they are an actor, combining vocal acrobatics with skillful performances. With few spoken lines to work with, too, the actors throw themselves into their roles. You can feel the grimace after a sip of bad coffee, the careless abandon in the downing of a glass of wine; you especially feel the squirming by the female characters as they are accosted, verbally and physically, by the male characters, calling attention to the important theme of misogyny in the show. This theme, like other themes in The Wild Party, is never fully “solved,” but for good reason: these topics create the unsettling reminder that assault is pervasive throughout history, and it is still a problem today.
Along with body language, the choreography to the songs is one of the most powerful aspects of The Wild Party. In group dances, the timing is flawless, creating a unified, powerful form. In this production, dancing is not used only to accentuate the scenes, but also to add another layer of interpretation. In one scene characterized by high physical and emotional vulnerability, for example, the ensemble appears wearing only pajamas and dances in a modern, free-form style. The mood of the scene was already fragile, but the dancers highlight its stress, regret, and fear of openness.
The Wild Party will not make you feel hopeful. It will leave you disappointed—not in its acting, singing, or dancing, but in the core of the story itself. The Wild Party paints humans at their grossest, showing love, hate, and the haunting similarities between them. It is the idea that at our hearts, we really are no more than animals fighting for each other’s attention.
Photos courtesy of Frank Chen