Early in the show one of the lovers asks our anti-heroine "What do you see when you look into my eyes?"
She replies: "I see myself." Therein lies the basic flaw of each of the major narcissistic characters in Frank
Wedekind's Lulu, whose attempts to corral her animal spirit (excepting one at the end) will all prove fruitless.
Now playing at the Washington Shakespeare Company (to 12/13), the newly adapted work by Nicholas Wright puts a bright
spin on a play full to the brim with sex and violence.
Director Chris Henley has given us a show that is graceful and
balletic - this Lulu's light on its feet - and at all times wonderful to look at, in a well-staged production,
but it labors under a script that is talky, a plot (in the second half) that is convoluted, and a combination of acting styles
that is difficult to reconcile. Lulu is actually based on two plays; the frank sexuality had to be removed
in Wedekind's day, with scenes added in re-stitching the drama together, and consequently the final product has the feel
of having been very much workshopped. There's no saving through-music as occurs in the later opera (by Alban Berg)
based on his plays or his other popular work Spring Awakening. Lulu works best here when
it's played as camp or farce, with plenty of double-entendres - they got the most laughs from the opening night crowd
- but the heightened German expressionism (where's the repression looking for release these days?) doesn't travel
As the play begins, with a scene straight out of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lulu, played by Sara Barker
with noli me tangere (touch me not) finesse, is having her very innocent portrait painted by society artist Eduard
Schwartz (James Finley) for her possessive husband Dr. Goll (Allan Jirikowic) while newspaper publisher, and keeper of the
Lulu playbook, Dr. Frank Schoning (Angel Torres) looks on. Goll fashions her as a dancer and plaything; Schwartz
as his artistic and sexual muse come to life; and Schoning (sort of a German Sanford White) as his protégé and
recreational outlet of the moment. But Lulu is one step ahead of each in the wish fulfillment department; before the
evening is very old, they are all dispatched - directly or indirectly by Lulu - to the other world. The ghirl can't help it!
Mr. Torres impressed with his physicality in this meaty part (the raccoon-eyed
look worked memorably as it did with the Schigolch character). Mr. Finley showed great range moving from the sensitive
to the sadistic in a dual performance and Mr. Jirikowic likewise transforms himself from the dutiful doctor into the homicidal
client in the ending.
Along the way fresh troops are needed. Filling the void, such as it is, in her emotional life
is Schoning's dandyish son Alwa (Jay Hardee), who enters with a splash quoting Nietzsche. When he and Ms. Barker
mix it up, there's magic on stage. Ms. Barker has the requisite complexity for the role: the charming girl-next-door
looks with a coldly calculating mind while the impish Mr. Hardee - the contrast between Nietzsche's ascetic Zarathustra
and his foppish character couldn't be more comically extreme - seems to have arrived as a soulmate. He is soon joined
by the opportunistic Rodrigo (sprightly portrayed by S. Lewis Feemster), a very smitten lesbian Countess Geshwitz (played
with extreme neediness by Karin Rosnizeck), and (possibly) Papa Schigolch (given a Mephistophelian turn by Kim Curtis).
to move on, and beat a murder rap, Lulu makes her way to Paris. In a scene reminiscent of the Black and White
Ball played at a casino, a profusion of additional characters arrive, mostly to fill out the plot and serve as a chorus.
I thought the production bogged down at this point, a subplot or two could have been excised; the careful build-up of the
first half of play seems for naught. Led by the Marqui (Frank Britton) who's into blackmail and sexual slavery,
various other social butterflies and establishment types nicely flit around or exert themselves within the ensemble cast,
many in multiple roles (Tony Bullock, Zoe Cowan, Tricia Homer, Jack Miggins, Barbara Papendorp, and Julie Roundtree).
After a revolution, market bust, and various extortions and predations, Lulu finds it expedient to dispatch another lover,
and then it's off to London where she meets her match in Jack the Ripper. The finale has a body pile-up and on stage
organ deposit worthy of `Tis Pity She's a Whore.
a visually impressive design with silhouettes to move the story along. Eric Grims' fitting cartoon-like set has
aspects of a (very) graphic novel about to unfold. Like a gesso-primed canvas for the mostly-white scene one, costumer Greg
Stephens impressively fills out the picture in tableaux which moves through maroon-brown, green, and black and white, and
then fades to black, all of which Marianne Meadows captures in her lighting. Sound design by David Crandall was appropriate
to and integrated with the action. Kudos also goes to Amber Krause and Kaleigh Showers for their work on props and set
decoration and to Casey Kaleba for his fight direction.
If your sense of adventure outweighs your aversion to
risk, you may find the play worthwhile. If you've never seen the play or the opera, this is a pretty good show to
fill in the gap, but definitely do some homework first. Even if you've seen the opera before, this production offers
another way to recreate it from your memory. Don't forget to listen to Alban Berg's score before and after the
Sound check: Excellent, low to moderate sound levels pretty much, with a few exceptions
notes: Good, with director's notes and adapter and cast bios; production needed a synopsis and dramaturgy input
along with cast head shots
Applause meter: 2 ½ hands, may be worth a look. Contains adult themes: simulated
sex and drug usage, references to incest, violence, male nudity
Runtime: About 2 hours and 25 minutes
C. Stanley Photography