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Vienna: Lusthaus Text by Charles Mee, Jr.; Directed by Martha Clarke Music Theatre Group/Lennox Arts Center (New York) Carol Martin There is an incredible silent scene early on in Martha Clarke's Vienna: Lusthaus. A young couple rolls across the floor and embraces in tender, ecstatic positions of love. All the while they have been quietly observed from the opposite side of the stage by an old woman (Lotte Goslar) dressed in night clothes and seated on a chair. She observes as if she is half seeing the lovers and half lost in the recesses of her own mind. After they've rolled across the stage the couple stands up and the male (Rob Besserer) turns to arduously kiss the object of his desire but the old woman steps between them. Besserer doesn't flinch in the surge of his intention and kisses, instead , the older woman. She responds by raising her arm in a passionate gesture of youth that recalls the younger woman. And we see the incongruity of her aged body and how we are all both belied and described by our corporeal selves. This scene, like all the others, is viewed through a scrim which filters the cadence of memories, fantasies, and dreams. Many scenes seem to begin offstage and continue, even when they are not lit, until they are fully out of view. The slightly lopsided and totally white set by Robert Israel furthers this illusion. It is simply a room with a wood floor, a few chairs, and a piano bench. However, the side walls of the set, one of which ever so slightly leans into the center and the other away, are designed as massive solid structures that lend the goings-on, if not a legendary air, than at least an importance that far outweighs appearance. Each wall has a large framed limin which connects onstage and offstage areas. An exquisitely talented ensemble of actors and dancers, enter and exit through these passageways , occasionally hovering halfway between as if to say that the warp and woof of desire-lust, incest, sadism, masochism, passion, death, and rebirth-should not be seen in full view. The world of Vienna: Lusthaus is a place were men's and women's hearts and souls are irrevocably bound to the desires that spring from between the legs. At the same time Clarke, reportedly inspired by an exhibit she saw about Vienna, focuses the mise-en-scene so the center of the stage is full of the daily life activities, thoughts, and fantasies of turn-of-the-century Vienna; a city inhabited by artists and intellectuals like Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt, Gustav Mahler, and Adolf Loos. Vienna was also home to Adolf Hitler, who from 1908 to 1913 learned a lot from its anti-Semitic mayor, Karl Lueger. Bruno Bettelheim, who fled the city in 1939, wrote in the Pompidou Center's exhibition catalogue about Vienna: "The strange and deep link of sex and destruction was to mark Viennese culture during this period of the slow decadence of the empire." Clarke's scenes detail this link with images of eroticism and death in a beautiful slow motion that is sporadically accom88 C, SCENES FROM VIENNA: LUSTHAUS panied by music (Richard Peaslee) and text (Charles Mee, Jr.). At the beginning of the piece Gianfranco Paoluzi appears in a blue and red soldier's uniform and riding boots. He performs a genteel equestrian strut, in which he is both the rider and the horse. The master's authority over the beast is unequivocal as he turns to survey the field. He culminates his perusal in two perfectly synchronized jumps. But slowly Paoluzi subtly blurs the boundaries between man and animal with a shake of his head and turn of his neck. He releases the reins and his hands curl into fingerless hooves as his body is beckoned to all-fours. This kind of physical transformation , from Clarke's days with Pilobolus, which radically displaces and engages our expectations, recurs thoughout the performance. Mee's text also interrupts the normal logic of things. A group of women dressed in white Victorian underwear begin to cluster together and slowly make an informal procession...


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pp. 88-90
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