Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Models Cast "MLLE. GOD"

In Nicholas Kazan’s “Mlle. God” Lulu, (Annika Marks) the mademoiselle in question, worships at the Church of Sex. Kazan’s tribute to early 20th Century “Lulu Plays” by Frank Wedekind via the 1929 silent film “Pandora’s Box” with Louise Brooks directed by G.W. Pabst is, if nothing else, poetry in motion.

On the way into the theatre, as I walked by Scott Paulin, director of Mlle. God. I heard him describe the severe black bob and bangs worn by Louise Brooks, the star of Pandora’s Box. Born in 1906, Brooks was a product of early show business whose real life as a dancer and show girl who went on to become an actress in the twenties may have paralleled the life of the fictional. Marks makes no attempt to channel Brooks’ performance or look. This is a modern play set in “Not Quite Here” and “Not Quite Now” but has all the makings of a 21st Century time and place with video projections and cell phones.

The fascinating thing about this performance of Mlle. God and the characters in it on my second viewing is coming to the conclusion that Kazan is a poet. Not in the traditional sense, but in the sense that Steinbeck or Saroyan or more recently, John Irving are poetic in the way they capture the flow of language. Paulin’s direction makes use of fluid movements to echo the text. However, in this “Models” cast, it is hard to tell what makes some of the characters so difficult to capture.

As the artist, Melville, Robert Trebor’s efforts show. He is the first victim of Lulu’s charms we meet in his fifth floor studio (again kudos to the sets and lights design realized by Richard Hoover). The age difference between Melville and Lulu is too great, though it echoes Pabst film’s Doctor. Lulu is, at once genuinely enamored with the artist yet toys with his affections when he presents a beautiful sapphire ring with his marriage proposal. His request elicits “Can I keep it?” Lulu understands his intent and rejects the proposal. Even so the artist caves in offering even his soul if only she will agree to be with him on any terms. He threatens to leap from a window. To which Lulu casually reminds him that they are on the fifth floor.

Marks’s Lulu is wantonly sincere and at the same time a literally bouncing flibbertygibbet. She is sensual, sexual, awake, aware and guided by her own untraditional ethic. She communes at the Church of Sex. She attends unabashedly. She takes responsibility for her self and her own actions. She is free.

In Pandora’s Box, Louise Brooks as Lulu leaves a path of emotional and eventually physical destruction as she vamps her way reluctantly into a marriage with an older doctor. He has married her in a fit of passion, knowing that she will either be the death of him.. or he, in his drunken state of love may take his own life. Kazan morphs this moment in the film and transfers it to "Number 26" Charles (Lulu numbers her conquests), (William Duffy), who attempts to escape Lulu’s charms by proposing to the Harvard Legacy, straight laced, up tight Harriet (Laura Beckner). Lulu spirits Charles off to her bedroom for one last romp. Poor Charles, succumbing to the thought of Life without Lulu, defenestrates himself, leaving Lulu not only devastated, but possibly guilty in the eyes of the law, though we know that it’s only lust that has yanked Charles out the window to the street below.

We have met Charles brother, Trib (Gary Patent), whose character may be the most difficult to play. Naïve and shy, he quickly becomes intoxicated with Lulu’s allure. He swoons with the sweet, soft nectar of her lips. Later in this scene, we see the blue nosed Harriet fall victim to Lulu as she declares, “You were right about the nectar!”

Giving more actors time on stage is an admirable gesture. Paulin has his hands full coordinating blocking and timing with two casts. The actors who play only half of the time must work in such a way as to allow the full time players, Lulu/Marks, (The Prince) Kareem Furgusen, Will Harris (Kip) and John Neilsen (The Governor) to meld well. For the most part, it works. To compare the performances would be unfair. I missed seeing the Models cast's Eleanor (Jacqueline Wright) who comes to see Lulu in jail and noted that the ease with which the Muse cast’s Heather Robinson played Eleanor was notably different from the energies in other half timers in the Models cast.

Lewis (Keith Arthur Bolden), the tough jail guard has a totally different take on his role than Jon Kellan in the Muses cast. Again unfair comparison, leaving it up to a savvy audience to invest in seeing the show more than one time to make their own comparison.

The beauty of what EST/LA is up to here is that they produce Theatre. They are dedicated to putting actors on the stage in a professional setting, with challenging scripts and they succeed. Gates McFadden and her company seem willing to take chances and bring important theatre to Atwater. "MLLE. GOD" is not for the faint of heart. This is a place for new and exciting theatre. Pleasure and Punishment await.

See former review for performance dates and ticket information
Plays through March 6, 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment