Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Public Theatre’

Poor Little Lulu

March 21st, 2012 No comments

Poor Little Lulu

Went and saw Poor Little Lulu at CPT on Monday, and for the most part I enjoyed the play conceived and directed by Matthew Earnest, an adaptation of two Frank Wedekind plays as noted in the program, Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box.

I say “for the most part” because, as with many conceived pieces, the story really falls apart at the end. However, with that said, apparently both of the plays written by Wedekind are, generally, run together in one performance. The “running together” of the plays at CPT is no different: though, I wish in many ways it was. Simply, either the plays should not be run together in one evening, or sufficient time should be provided for them to properly develop and resolve themselves. As with other jointly conceived pieces I’ve seen it’s as if the steam (enthusiasm) just runs out—-or the time to prepare it does–and there is a push to just end the piece in whichever way is most expedient—-or no one working on the piece has the faintest idea how to end it, and so it lieu of letting it just sort of peter out some contrived ending is ratcheted on. This, however, was an adaptation, so there was not this particular problem, there was another, which I get to later.

What Earnest does with the play from a directorial and visual dimension is fantastic. The choices of costuming (nudity, cross-dressing, costume design), scene transition, the contrast of white and black and shadow play (noir) is stunning, etc. The performances from the cast are equally exceptional. The play, for the most part, is worth seeing for the visual effects, direction, sound design (James Kosmatka), video design (Earnest & Will Bezek), and staging alone. There is a constancy of energy and forward motion driving the piece, which helps when the story flags in Act 2. There are only a few instances in which the other flaw of devised pieces exhibits itself, which I’ll refer to as the onanistic tendency to indulge in superfluous goings on: characters (actors) sing for no reason (just because they can, I suppose) and for the same reason they engage in choreographed dancing. Don’t get me wrong, Lulu is supposed to be a dancer—so why not let her dance, right? Of course, she is supposed to be a prostitute, so why not let her…? The point is that seeing the dancing or fucking or whatever is not immediately relevant to the story. If it doesn’t materially function as an element of the story then cut it. If it has no story contribution (forward progression) then cut it. Katie Nabors (Lulu) is a dancer by the way and is clearly very talented and it was a joy to watch, even though it had no real purpose, or perhaps phrased differently, why was there no dancing and singing in Act 2? If you’re going to go whole hog, go whole hog.

Having worked on adaptations myself, and having read many books that touch on the subject, one of the rules that is always put forward is that the playwright, sorry, conceiver, should be faithful to the script (devised piece) he/she is writing/ conceiving, not to the original material—-even in cases when the original creator is still alive and you are beholden to that original work you should fight as much as possible for your own vision. That is, you should be as faithful as possible to your adaptation—-your interpretation of the story. So, for Earnest the question is, what was the story? His story? Because, I think, too faithful an adherence to Wedekind’s ponderous arc drove this piece to a forced progression of plot pegs. I can see and understand the imperative to present the “whole” story—-the complete character arc for Lulu: her rise and terrible fall—-but that is a different play from the emotional entanglements of Lulu and Schon (Mark Farr) which dominate the first act. Equally, I understand CPT’s mission and goal of presenting stories that cast light on social injustice and issues that still are prevalent in today’s society: including the slavery of women. These two plays by Wedekind certainly do this. But as presented in this adaptation the story fails in the second act completely—-the plot points are there and clearly apparent, but dramatic and emotional interest just vanishes. Having never read the original plays I am unsure how long a full production of both would be—-compared to this one at CPT. But, in the interest of finishing this adaptation much of Act 2 is clipped of meaningful dramatic content and all is presented as rough plot points and characters speaking their situations (telling): “Oh, I have no money,” etc. It is in this regard that I would rather have had only one play presented, or perhaps both at different times.

The story in the first act is quite compelling and engaging (i.e. the first play) and it is quickly and emotionally enthralling with regard to the relationship between Lulu and Dr. Ludwig Schon. Earnest, with the first play (act) creates a captivating story, in which the tension between Lulu and Schon is built and very productively dominant—-a tension that could have been sustained over the whole piece. Unfortunately, by being wholly true to the Wedekind original, this tension and emotionally dramatic force is cut short far too quickly with the marriage of Lulu and Schon and the subsequent murder of Schon by Lulu. This arc is fine for one play (Earth Spirit) but not fine for the two plays combined. The problem for the Earnest adaptation (wholly) is that the emotional attachment for the audience falls predominantly on these two characters (Lulu and Schon) and in the second act the audience is left with without them (hence no attachment–and virtually no interest in what transpires.) In fact, Lulu is in prison and absent from the first several minutes of the second act, so there are no characters that serve as an attachment at all—-and the characters that remain are debauched (as expected given the time period and location) but also two-dimensional, and thus cannot be emotionally engaging. Again, I don’t know if this is a problem for just this piece, or if it is common to the other adaptations of the “Lulu plays.” It is regrettable, because the first part of the piece is very alluring, but the second is just a series of rote events that wrap up the character arcs in a mechanical sort of way.


March 13th, 2012 No comments


Went over to CPT last night and saw Darwinii: The Comeuppance of Man. Tony Brown, several years back, described it as “mesmerizing” and it was indeed that. It started off a bit slowly and I was thinking, “oh, shit…I’m going to have to watch a guy walk back and forth on a strip of red carpet for an hour-and-a-half;” however, once the ball started rolling…


About the play

The play is an apology, of sorts, by Cristobal (Brett Keyser), a man who claims to be the great, great, great… grandson of Charles Robert Darwin. Using ideas about inheritance and genetics and history and sheer comedy Cristobal makes a splendid case as to why this is the truth. In some ways, the play reminded me of Thom Pain: Based on Nothing by Will Eno, which I saw at Dobama some years back, but Darwinii is far less aggressive and confrontational–and far more funny. Keyser keeps the play chugging a long by using varied techniques that are delightful: he comes out in an orange jump suit with his hands cuffed behind he back (he escapes them), he wears Argentinean clothing under his orange jump suit and wields a few hidden knives to demonstrate his prowess, he has imagined conversations with people, he engages in a battle during the Falklands, he sells tchotchkes related to Darwin, plays a book on tape with a woman whose voice leads him on a quest of love, steals rare books from a host of repositories, etc. The play becomes simply a marvelous tale that is not only well-written and reflexive, but well-told and both amazing and delightful to behold.

The play was commissioned in 2009 by the American Philosophical Society Museum, and worth every penny the put into it.

Later that same evening…

Afterward I went to XYZ to have a beer and read some of my screenplay book where I bumped into Celeste Cosentino, Ian Hinz, and Katie Nabors so I got the chance to introduce myself to the Ensemble Theatre folks, which, coincidentally, I could have done on Saturday, had I simply stuck around long enough. Also saw Stuart Hoffman earlier at Darwinii who is having a reading done at Ensemble on the 28th (Cocopelli: a fairy tale for adults) which I hope very much to see. Also saw Mike Williams, who is wrapping up his MFA soon, he was just leaving Poor Little Lulu, which I hope to see next week. Convergence opens its season this weekend, too.

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