Taking it to the Streets
Each actor in The Thalia Theatre's production of Frank Wedekind's Lulu (from Hamburg, at The Brooklyn Academy of Music) casts multiple shadows on a lavender screen upstage. There's no set - not a stick - except for that screen, and there's a single prop, a handgun. Lulu wears a series of minidresses, and the scenes are connected with rock music, but this production wants to be without period, larger than life, epic.
Director Michael Thalheimer has chosen this bold approach (he's known for it) in spite of the counterindications in the script. Lulu is Everyman's desire, but she's protean, not an absolute. Each man has his own name for her (Eve or Mignon or something). "I like them incomplete," one lover says of her.
Thalheimer has based his lean, abbreviated adaptation on Pandora's Box: A Monster-Tragedy, a five-act drama (1892 or so), referred to as Lulu. Wedekind later rewrote the play as two dramas, Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box, which had a highly censored history. The original script was discovered only after FW's death.
Lulu is one of the great bravura roles. A slut of the first magnitude, she runs through a series of husbands and other men, all the while resisting a woman's advances. Finally, after convoluted plot twists (again an obstacle to grandeur), she has to take to the streets in London, and she meets her demise at the hands of a character based on Jack the Ripper.
In this production, Lulu is a monster indeed; she licks her dead husband's blood from her lover's hand. The actress, Fritzi Haberlandt, is suitably detached from sexuality, but she makes the character into an insolent brat. Worse, she looks wrong for the part - too hard. Nonetheless, the actors drop their pants - literally, on stage - one after another, slaves to their appetites.
As the play progresses, that screen creeps downstage, crushing the actors against the fourth wall; there's clearly an impressive conceptual talent at work. The production is enormously powerful, but so is a blunt object to the head.
Thalheimer's minimalism, reducing the script to actors alone, is wrong for the script. Note that the characters speak German in Germany, but, in public, they speak French in Paris and English in London; this is super-naturalism. Indeed, it's nearly farce, smaller than life: when Lulu shoots Husband Number Two, he says "I'm fat enough." The director wants to give the characters the dignity of Greek prototypes, and he can't. The lines themselves need context to be truthful. In reading, they're cryptic. In this production, they're undecipherable.
And speaking of the lines: there's a tacky insert in the program crediting the English Titles. This should have been a clue, I suppose. The dialogue is difficult, even in the reading, and this cast spit out the lines with the rhythm of a machine gun. The surtitles aren't up to the challenge, and it's often impossible to tell which character is speaking the line we're reading. A times, the surtitles give up, the screens are blank, and we're left to out own devices.
- Steve Capra