Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Poor Little Lulu

POOR LITTLE LULU, Theatre of the Absurd at Cleveland Public Theatre

POOR LITTLE LULU, Matthew Earnest’s play, which is getting its world premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre where it is being produced in association with The Lunar Stratagem, is a classic Theatre of the Absurd creation. The absurd movement, which was at its high during the turbulent mid-to-late twentieth century, centered on the existential question, “why do we exist?” Plays by Edward Albee and Eugene Ionesco put individuals in absurd situations, where the ridiculousness and horrors of life, and of the decisions made, were paramount.

Earnest has taken the words of Frank Wedekind, who wrote PANDORA’S BOX (1904) and EARTH SPIRIT (1895), controversial plays which examined women under siege, and developed a work that allows for seeing a group of people who are depraved, selfish and foolish. People, who clearly are acting out the meaning of existence.
Placed in a stark white setting, with harsh glaring lights, the work takes on the look of absurdist art, often letting the viewer figure out what is being portrayed and its meaning.

The script is as relevant today as it was at the turn of the century, maybe even more so because of the constant availability of electronic media. Vitriolic conservatism in the present day has broadened the field. Religious fanatics, their political spokesmen, and right wing media moguls attack anyone that doesn’t agree with their narrow views by name calling, verbal, and litigious assault. Women, gays, liberals and humanists, among others, are castigated as the enemy and attacked.

Lulu, in Earnest’s play, is doing what she has been taught to do. She is a femme fatale, the only route open to her. As Earnest, who is also the play’s director states, “We were interested in her as a blank canvas that everyone in her life felt free to paint on whenever they liked, even to the point of renaming her at their pleasure. Renaming her by calling her names and alluding to her in vulgar terms.

Earnest paints not only on Lulu, but on the entire stage. Men are dressed in revealing women’s underwear doing “womanly activities,” such as moving furniture, moving daintily through lives, changing characters to fit the needs of others. The real is often not presented as real. Actors change characters so often that keeping track of who is who becomes an exercise in futility.

The cast of POOR LITTLE LULU seems to understand their purposes. Some, of course, carry out their mission more proficiently than others. Katie Nabors (Lulu) moves easily from mood to mood, role to role. Karl LaMarca, is cute, effeminate and believable as Alva Schön. The rest of the cast has high and low moments, sometime feigning roles that require believability.
Benjamin Gantose’s lighting design and Will Bezek’s set design add to the absurdity of the production.

Capsule judgement: POOR LITTLE LULU is not a play for everyone. It is abstract and existentialistic in nature, which makes it a niche production which will attract those who like the Theatre of the Absurd and enjoy verbal gymnastics.