Review by Frank Plowright
Eight years passed between John Linton Roberson publishing his first instalment of Lulu and this updating of the second act of Frank Wedekind’s play Erdgeist (Earth Spirit). Creatively, there are two major differences between this and Book 1, one being the addition of colour. It’s sparingly applied to add emphasis to crucial scenes of revelation about the past toward the end.
Time has passed since the first act, which saw Lulu’s husband take a fatal heart attack on seeing her copulating with artist Walter Schwarz, who had been commissioned to paint her portrait. Lulu was established beyond doubt as a libertine, inherited a fortune on her husband’s death, and is now married to Walter. Lulu refers to herself as Lulu, but every man in the play has a different name for her, Eve in Walter’s case, and his career has taken off in the meantime.
As before, Roberson adapts what are staged scenes designed for a single location with an impressive verve, the more so for this time producing the art under restrictions. Donna Barr’s introduction notes problems with printers imposing themselves as censors, and whereas Lulu was naked throughout much of Book 1, her clothes remain on, mostly at least, throughout Book 2. This does nothing to diminish her sexual appetite, but Roberson’s depictions of it are less explicit, yet being denied the most obvious sexuality barely reduces her appeal as he uses poses and expressions to great effect. A particularly expressive insight into Lulu’s personality is her masturbating during the course of the book’s crucial conversation. Light visual comedy touches also feed in well.
Wedekind’s play was a subversive comedy about late 19th century sexual attitudes, but those attitudes change over time. Today there would be less chatter about Lulu’s appetites, but a far greater concern about her being the way she is due to her upbringing. Roberson explicitly has her groped by her dissolute father, and hints that her sexual relationship with the man who rescued her from that father, newspaper proprietor Shoen, began before she reached the age of consent. He’s concerned that their continuing sexual relations, with Schwarz ignorant, will impact on his forthcoming marriage, yet is unable to resist what’s freely offered.
Bearing in mind the problems he’s faced, Roberson cleverly aligns his freedom of expression with Schwarz, noted as being able to paint what he pleases, but overall this is another delightful bawdy romp leading to a second tragic ending. This time, though, Lulu sheds some tears. Has she begun to change or is she playing to an audience? We’ll see in Book 3. May we not have to wait another eight years.