nytheatre.com review by Kiran Rikhye
August 12, 2006
LULU, billed as "a black and white silent play," is an homage to and re-imagining of G.W. Pabst's 1929 classic silent film of the same name. The plot is convoluted, but the basic gist is as follows: Lulu (played here by Kyla Louise Webb) is a reckless and alluring woman who does what she pleases and leaves a trail of friends, husbands, and lovers of various genders in her wake. When Lulu's exploits lead to trouble, she finds that some of her admirers are willing to sacrifice everything for her...while others are eager to betray her. She is a captivating character and the idea of translating a silent film classic into a staged piece is an exciting one. So it comes as a disappointment that this LULU doesn't live up to its potential.
The first scene of LULU introduces the audience to an assortment of circus freaks: a tall man, a bearded lady, a dangerous beast, etc. A projected intertitle warns us that we are about to see "the most untamed beast of all," and the lights come up to reveal that Lulu herself has entered. The only problem is that you have to look hard to find her. The stage is cluttered with "freaks," seemingly arranged at random. The trouble here—and throughout the piece—is that director Tonika Todorova lets too much happen at once, and doesn't successfully guide the audience's gaze or attention.
Furthermore, LULU lacks the choreographic clarity and precision that one would expect from a piece that relies on movement instead of on spoken text. (There are some notable exceptions here, such as Marvin Eduardo Quijada, whose precise movements and characterizations are a pleasure to watch.) With the convoluted plot and triple casting, as well as the repeated costume changes, this lack of precision conspires to make LULU difficult to follow and its characters difficult to care about. This is compounded by the production's strange inattention to detail, most notably the fact that kisses, sniffles, and even slaps are all done quite noisily, distracting from the silence of this "silent" play.
The real pity here is that, when the choreography is precise, the effect is enthralling, most notably in several riveting and acrobatic combat and death scenes. I only wish the rest of the show had been given the same kind of attention. There are also some wickedly clever details, such as when Lulu pries the ring off of her dead husband's hand and presents it to another man; or when she and a female lover discreetly leave a social gathering, only to return wearing each other's dresses; or when variations on familiar Christmas carols provide the musical background for a scene of seduction and murder (music is performed live by composer Isaiah Robinson). For most of the play, however, there is far too much clutter and sloppiness for these moments to get the attention they deserve.
LULU is a creative and imaginative piece with several charismatic and talented performers. It is, nonetheless, a piece that undermines its own potential. Though Lulu gets her "just desserts" in the end, she has had a whole lot of fun along the way. I only wish the Silent Theatre Company had slowed things down and paid enough attention to detail to take me along on her journey.