What you need to understand is I have nothing against naked men. But if they are going to be running around a theater with everything bouncing and boinging I really insist that there be a damn good reason, especially if the show uses, you should pardon the expression, a thrust stage.
My engineer friend liked the idea of using some theater gift certificates in his possession to go to a show on my birthday, so he let me pick the play. As it happened, a local company was accepting the tickets for a production of Franz Wedekind’s Lulu. I first saw this performed in my undergraduate days; it’s a lurid farce that stumbles into bathetic tragedy, a little gem of post-Victorian prurience in which the amoral femme fatale either pays the price of her depravity or suffers the projections of the men she exploits, depending on your perspective. I expected ripsnorting, self-satirizing hyperbolic melodrama, which can be fun if it’s done right, but I really was not expecting Jack the Ripper to lose his Fruit Of The Looms.
I should backpedal a little bit. You see, what happens is, after going through three or four husbands and a couple of fortunes, Lulu, the adventuress who has risen from the streets, finds herself right back on them, occupying shabby digs in London’s East End with a ragtag entourage that includes her last amour, her putative father (a parasite and tosspot), and a lesbian Countess who worships the ground Lulu walks on. They haven’t a groat between them so Lulu goes out to pick up men, bringing home in succession a missionary Reverend, a bewildered sailor and, for the grand finale, Jack, who engages her in some vaguely existential mind games before dismembering her, offstage, during a bathetic and besotted soliloquy by the Countess Geschwitz.
If this is done right it can be a jimdandy of its kind; in my college production, Jack was played by one of the drama professors, who clearly relished the opportunity to inflict a slashing death on a couple of his advisees (Geschwitz is almost an afterthought). The Washington Shakespeare Company, for some reason, felt the need not only to send Jack careening bollocky naked around the stage, liberally smeared with unconvincing stage blood, but to supply him with a handful of what I think were giblets (it is the Thanksgiving season).
Don’t get me wrong. I am actually one of those people who knows more than you want to know about the Ripper murders and can tell you details like which kidney was removed from one of the victims and how the last woman he killed was found and at what address in East London. But there is nothing in the Wedekind play that is improved by the addition of giblets. I gather the script was revised numerous times by the author (in an early version, the Ripper leaves with a newspaper packet which clearly harbors grisly contents) and I suspect modern companies feel free to “interpret” what he “wanted to say but couldn’t.”
Feh, I say.
I mean, these are the people that brought us Macbeth without a stitch of clothing. I should have been more circumspect (or, as my late and ex used to say in such context, circumcise. Um.) Actually it seems as if you can’t snap a program in Arlington these days without grazing someone’s nutsack. If that’s what I’m after I will cut right to the chase.