- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

The stunningly original and erotic work of art Martha Clarke is presenting this week under the title "Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited)" is not for everyone. It's not for people who would be unsettled by its unabashed sexuality and nudity, nor for those who tune out at theater that uses a spare, slow-moving sense of time suspended, the kind of experience one has at an Eiko and Koma performance.

If, however, you like slow and sexy, you will find "Vienna: Lusthaus" a riveting and beautifully realized piece of theater.

Conceived and structured by Miss Clarke, "Vienna: Lusthaus" is lighted with exquisite subtlety by Paul Gallo. Robert Israel designed the elegant minimalist set (airy white walls, an occasional chair, all dreamy behind a scrim) and extraordinarily handsome costumes of Vienna at the turn of the century, from the 19th to 20th century, that is. Richard Peaslee was another invaluable contributor to the work with his quietly suggestive music.

Working with single purpose, these contributing artists have created an atmosphere of waking dreams, dark secrets and broken taboos: the fin-de-siecle nighttime world that produced unusual figures such as Sigmund Freud, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Adolf Hitler.

Miss Clarke's palette includes words (many of them sounding as if they could be dreams recorded by Freud's patients), gestures and larger movements. No, it's not conventional dance, but only trained dancers could cope with its technical demands.

Her performers are extraordinary. Some come from the world of theater, some from that of dance. All bring a deep understanding of the world Miss Clarke is creating.

Scenes flash by in a series of vignettes. Often there is a disconnect, and there are many funny and ironic touches in "Vienna: Lusthaus," effects achieved thanks to split-second delivery or timing.

Throughout the piece, however, Miss Clarke's focus is on the myriad forms sexuality takes, even the taboo.

A father sits on a bench with his young daughter. She cuddles up to him, first childishly, then suggesting incest.

A man gently touches a woman's face; they fall to the ground and roll over each other tenderly. Another woman enters and says, to no one, "He put his tongue in my mouth. I imagined a train going deep in the tunnel." The three figures stand, facing front. Suddenly the man kisses the talking woman, and they go off together.

In one of the more arresting scenes, two nude women sit on the floor, their backs to us. They move slowly, with elegant deliberation.

In another riveting scene, dancer Robert Besserer entered with two small boots on his hands and turned them into the kittenish feet of a very cooperative woman (an old vaudeville trick used in a new way). Then these amusing boots are turned into a soldier's feet marching in an ominous goose step.

This and the previous scene with the two women were among the most memorable moments when "Vienna: Lusthaus" played here 17 years ago.

There are moments of sexual degradation (a man uses his riding whip to touch a woman's breast and to lift her skirt) and sadism (another man pulls a woman roughly to him, then holds a gun in her mouth, then turns it on himself.

Someone intones, "Jews are not well able to serve in the infantry. Unfortunately, that service is an essential of citizenship, so Jews cannot be full citizens."

Snow begins to fall. Four soldiers stagger on and fall down. Three rise, covered with snow, and walk off. Then a woman comes to the soldier who appears to be dead. She drags him to his feet and grabs him up and down, over and over, like a rag doll.

The music at this point is especially apposite as the strains of the Sarabande from Bach's C minor cello suite played onstage gives the scene an elegiac edge.

The era sputters to a close; the curtain descends.


***1/2

WHAT: Martha Clarke's "Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited)"

WHEN: Today at 2 and 8 p.m., tomorrow at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater

TICKETS: $12 to $32

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARSs

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