Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review: “LOU”

An intimate biopic about Lou Salome, one of the first scholars of the psychology of female sexuality, told by the all-female cast of six.   

Lou Salome was a late 19th - early 20th century philosopher, writer and psychoanalyst. Although she wrote more than a dozen novels as well as numerous plays and essays, her work is little known. Her personal life, on the other hand, is known much better, but mostly in relation to the famous males with whom she was acquainted, friends and in relationships. Among these men were Frederic Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud.

photo by Jody Christopherson

The debut play LOU by Haley Rice reclaims the story of Salome, putting the thinker’s brilliant mind and charismatic personality in the center of the picture. Kate Moore Heaney directs the all-female cast of six with fiery Mieko Gavia in the title role. To put it bluntly, ladies kick ass.

It is difficult to imagine anybody else but Gavia play the Russian born German philosopher. She made Lou appear strong-willed and sharp-tongued, equally successful at philosophical sparing and resisting the attempts of many men to court her. Although historians disagree on the number of suitors, Lou possessed the hearts of quite a few famous men of the century.    

You have probably seen a photograph by Jules Bonnet, depicting Lou Andreas-Salomé, Paul Rée and Frederic Nietzsche in 1882. Salome is holding a whip; Ree and Nietzsche are posing by the horse wagon against a mountain landscape background in the photographer’s studio. This image became an emblem of the intellectual ménage-a-trois between Salome, Ree and Nietzsche and an illustration to many rumors about the nature of this union.

Rice avoids going thorough the dirty laundry of the philosophical circle. She depicts the trio as an intellectual commune, bursting at the seams by their suppressed desires. Watching Lou putting Ree and Nietzsche in their place, like schoolboys, is comical. Yet it is scary that marriage was the only legitimate form of intellectual and emotional union with a woman, as seen by even progressive men of the time. Rice puts three marriage proposal scenes in a row, one of them romantic, one of them hilarious and another one being uncomfortably chilling.      

Although the play tends to be sentimental and even melodramatic when it comes to Lou’s relationship with men, it has its fair share of truly empowering moments and some good laughs. Olivia Jampol playing Friedrich Andreas, a linguistic scholar and Lou’s partner in a celibate marriage, makes the audience roar with laughter by just dropping a couple of words here and there in the very first scene we meet the character. Needless to say, every following appearance of Andreas is comedic. Jampol is equally successful as Paul Ree.

The all-female ethnically diverse cast feels so organic that I didn’t even see the need to comment on this. Maybe we already arrived at the age of the total acceptance on stage? Theatre 4the People, which produced LOU, totally made me feel this way.

LOU reclaims history by looking back through the female perspective yet avoids loud political statement, and this is the beauty of it. It is first a biography of the brilliant Lou Salome, her pictures, letters and other historical documents hanging down from the ceiling. Besides the archival materials sprinkled around, the set design by Marisa Kaugars consists only of a heavy desk filled with books.

Salome spent most of her life fighting against the prejudices of the patriarchal society and redefining female sexuality, both through her work and personal life. Books, letters and photographs with different men seem like an appropriate aftermath of the philosopher’s life. Everything else is fantasy and I just happened to like this particular one.         


LOU runs at The Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street, through June 3rd. The running time is 2 hours with one intermission. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00pm; Saturday and Sunday at 3:00pm. Tickets are $25 and are available at http://lousalome.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 1-800-838-3006. A limited number of pay-what-you-can tickets will be reserved for every performance, in an attempt to keep theatre accessible to all.

LOU is written by Haley Rice. It is directed by Kate Moore Heaney, produced by Theatre 4the Pepole. Costume Design by Katja Andreiev, Sound Design by Almeda Beynon, Lighting Design by Becky Heisler, Set Design by Marisa Kaugars.

The cast is Mieko Gavia, Natasha Hakata, Erika Phoebus, Jenny Leona, Olivia Jampol, and Valeria Avina.

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