‘Moi, je fais l’amour’
Is Lulu, the play, an anti-feminist fable, or an expressionist provocation to Goethe’s Ewig-Weibliche, the eternal feminine? Is Lulu, the woman, at all relevant to this century’s gender ecosystem?
I have wrestled with Lulu, the dilemma, as most certainly Wedekind would have gleefully loved me to, and as he wrestled with himself, re-working his Monster Tragedy obsessively over and over again.
A Monster Tragedy… One has to wonder what this enigmatic monster exactly refers to. Lulu herself? Her male lovers, husbands and eventual casualties? Jack the Ripper, her murderer? Countess Geschwitz, her undeterred lesbian suitor? The play itself? Epic theatre meets burlesque meets high drama meets hyper naturalism meets ironic screwball? What a mindboggling riddle.
Lulu can be possibly regarded as the ultimate per-sonification of the twentieth century itself: angel, monster, child, muse, animal, predator, seductress, prey, killer – at once a blank page and the turbulent history of femininity as captured by the male retina. She seduces for gain and allows gain to be made of her. She murders father and marries son. She domineers and is dominated. She leads all others towards death. She leads herself to the final sacrifice of her only possession, her uterus. She is a specter created by her beholders and a magnificent creature of her own invention. She is always one step ahead – until she isn’t.
Lulu is desire, horror, greed, amorality, resilience, freedom, destruction.
She is everything and nothing.
How does one stage a play about everything and nothing? My solution to the Lulu riddle was to employ her own trick: multiplicity.
Little Nell, Eve, Mignon; Triple Spiral; three primes of alchemy: salt, sulfur, mercury; three Fates; three Furies; triple-headed, triple-voiced, triple-pointed Hecate; tripled-faced Cerberus; Plato’s Tripartite Soul: Rational, Libidinous, Spirited; Freud’s Id-Ego-Superego; Lacan’s Real-Symbolic-Imaginary; Hegel’s Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis; Kant’s Universal-Particular-Singular; Epicurus’s Trilemma.
Wedekind’s ‘Lulutrilemma’ is a wicked, generous system of manners sticking its tongue out simultan-eously at the bourgeoisie and the art world. His fascination with the personality splintering and death wish of his wild bunch of characters cannot be an accident. He naughtily manufactured an onto-logical burlesque of outsiders, of proto-capitalist Pierrots – prophetic harbingers of a schizoid postwar Europe.
Wedekind also affords us the ecstatic mixture of tragedy, comedy and the grotesque. Lulu, the alpha female, acts as a refracting mirror of ailing, vulnerable, entranced masculinity. Just as a GPS uses three points to determine a location, the three Lulus triangulate around the men that she skewers, dismembers, reanimates and transfigures. Engaged in a cabaret danse macabre they pull apart, re-unite, encircle one another, contradict and reconfirm themselves, speaking alternately in a single-tuned voice and in unison – in harmony and in discord, eternally damned, evermore transcendent.
The maelstrom of men in Lulu’s journey keeps coming back as reincarnated doubles in their quixotic attempt to tame and master Lulu, just as she herself sheds her skin and is perpetually reborn. She is the quintessential ’20s (1920s / 2020s) vamp, a word poignantly originating from vampire.
Her lovers, fathers, husbands – her own cherished demons – are like a deck of masks, worn briefly by each at a time, before slipping off in the heat of Lulu’s alchemical and quicksilver reanimations.
And somewhere in between stands Geschwitz, Lulu’s accomplice, the sublime and sublimated hermaphrodite, the prisoner and the purifier: the only incarnation of true love.
Athina Rachel Tsangari