The New York Times just gave a glowing review to "Lulu," a Louise
Brooks-inspired silent stage play which was performed at the New York
International Fringe Festival. The play will next be performed at the
Victoria Theater in San Francisco starting September 7th. (see
www.victoriatheatre.org/) Jason Zinoman wrote in Saturday's New York
"The Silent Theater Company of Chicago is dedicated to the idea
that the theater doesn't need the spoken word, which it proves with
panache in its first production, Lulu, an ingeniously staged version
of the Louise Brooks 1929 silent film Pandora's Box.
Stylishly directed by Tonika Todorova, this dreamlike play without
words is about an insatiable hedonist who leaves death in her tracks.
It opens with a wild freak show - peopled by a bearded lady, a dwarf
and a man on stilts - dressed and lighted in a noirishly severe black
and white, like the cover of a 1920's scandal sheet burst to life.
Last to enter is the knockout showgirl Lulu (Kyla Louise Webb), a
good-time girl who is clearly bad news.
In the seasoned hands of Ms. Brooks - whose black bob, imitated
here, may be the most famous haircut in film history - the role
inspired oceans of critical drooling. Kenneth Tynan once wrote that
she was "the only star actress I can imagine either being enslaved by
or wanting to enslave."
The charismatic Ms. Webb, who wears a blankly innocent expression,
letting her jitterbugging body do the seducing, may not bring on such
dark thoughts, but her pursuit of unbridled pleasure is so persuasive
that you are sure that after the show she will seduce the rest of the
cast members and then break all their hearts.
Backed by the moody piano of Isaiah Robinson, this coolly stylized
presentation, which could benefit from a few more tech rehearsals,
communicates a remarkable amount of plot - in a few crisply designed
scenes that slip back and forth between erotic and macabre.
The glamorous Lulu is a reminder of how effective the great silent
performers were in their ability to cut directly to the heart of a
scene, something Billy the Mime also accomplishes superbly. If you
don't have the crutch of language, you need to be able to tell a story
with discipline and clarity, and these wordless artists developed a
vocabulary every bit as articulate as that of any playwright in the
Fringe. They are particularly eloquent with comedy and horror, two
areas in which the theater often lags behind film. When was the last
play you saw that was really scary or made you explode in belly laughs?
Unlike talking actors, who generally shun the grand gesture as
hammy, these silent performers are willing to go for the jugular. They
treat their limitation in speech as an opportunity to exploit the rest
of their repertory, which may be the reason that their shows seem
bolder, faster and meaner than any others I saw this week. Silence, in
an odd way, has liberated them."
For more about the Chicago-based Silent Theatre visit
www.silenttheatre.com/. You can even watch a silent trailer of the
play - with intertitles.