Featuring and all female cast, all female design and production team, Lou is a powerful and intellectual piece about Lou Salome, an accomplished writer and psychoanalyst in the late 19th century. By spotlighting this little known thinker, Haley Rice’s work questions the equality of women in the eyes of history.
Framed by memorabilia (set design by Marisa Kaugers), Lou opens with men singing the praises of Lou Salome (Mieko Gavia), who abruptly cuts them off to begin telling us her story. Chronicling her academic journey from tutoring with Henrik Gillot (Natasha Hakata) at the age of 17 to her private sessions with Sigmund Freud (Natasha Hakata) at the age of 50, Lou Salome’s intense spirit and charming personality is revealed in her relationships with the great thinkers of her time. Through the Baroness Malwida von Meysenbug (Valeria A. Avina), Lou meets Paul Ree (Olivia Jampol), who in turn introduces her to Friedrich Nietzsche (Jenny Leona). In her debates and conversations with Ree and Nietzsche, we get a taste of Lou’s quickness and hardness. Though she has vowed to never be with a man, both men become infatuated with her and her refusal to have either of them eventually causes them to part ways. Eventually, she takes a husband, Fredrich Andreas (Olivia Jampol), under the condition that they are companions and never lovers. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (Erika Phoebus) finds a muse in Lou, and the two become lovers and friends.
Lou Salome is in constant search of an equal, and though it is difficult to tell if she finds one, she deeply influences some of the greatest men of her time. By helping them to become “giants” she makes her mark on history, and raises questions about what it means to be free and equal as a woman in society.
The shining achievement of this play is Haley Rice’s successful balance of content and accessibility. Her characters do not get so deep into the jargon of academia that we cannot follow the characters through their debates. The arc of the play is clear and smooth; the wit is quick and nothing is superfluous. Kate Moore Heaney’s directing excels in demonstrating equality and power without the use of forceful position. Becky Heisler Mccarthy’s lighting and Almeda Beynon’s sound design soften the moments of intimacy and shatter moments of dissonance. The talented actresses capture the minute nuances of each character, and with the help of colorful costumes by Katja Andreiev, it is easy to forget the male characters are played by women. While Mieko Gavia is a force to reckon with, she grounds the entire cast with her stunning presentation of Lou Salome.
This production generates reason to wonder exactly how long women have searched for equality and recognition in history for outstanding achievement. Lou Salome’s work suggests that society can create free and equal people while also celebrating our differences; her life and work, as presented in this production, is a testament to the reality of such a society.
Lou: Theatre 4the People at The Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th St. Closes June 3rd.