Mark Lamos' production of the classic play by Spring Awakening author Frank Wedekind lacks any sort of human tenderness.
As the star of Yale Rep's revival of Lulu -- a brisk condensation of three variations of the 19th-century play by Spring Awakening author Frank Wedekind -- Brienin Bryant is meant to represent one such seductress. She's perfectly presentable -- no problem there -- but quite pedestrian. Further, there's little in her carriage (hunched) or delivery (pinched) to suggest the kind of siren who draws sustenance from the abject devotion of the suitors in her thrall.
In director Mark Lamos' vision, we're perhaps meant to see this victim of childhood abuse as disaffected from the chaos that swirls in her wake. He certainly derives plenty of distance with Wedekind's prescribed framing device: the conceit of a cabaret sideshow, emceed by the now-familiar figure of a raccoon-eyed ringmaster (a miked-up Michael Braun) providing running commentary in the form of risque couplets, albeit ones that are not exactly top-caliber.
And forget dramatic or erotic foreplay. In the opening scene, not only does Lulu immediately appear topless (in the requisite Blue Angel tap pants and top hat by spot-on costumer Christina Bullard), but one of her besotted male onlookers, all obsessively self-groping, starts out bottomless. Immediately we know it's going to be that kind of show -- one which we've also seen before.
Still, one has to admire the alacrity with which Lamos leaps through Lulu's serial, self-serving liaisons. The old doctor (Joe Vincent) and young painter (Louis Cancelmi, amusingly maladroit) are quickly dispatched, leaving her to focus on her original fixation, the publisher Schon (the urbane John Bedford Lloyd) and his aspiring-playwright son (Charles Socarides).
And in case they don't suffice -- and they don't -- sundry paramours stand ready to serve: as a circus strong man (comic poseur Jesse J. Perez), a game and hunky waiter (Alexander Beard), a knobby-kneed student seeking defloration (Joseph Gallagher), and even a rapacious sapphic countess (Felicity Jones, done up in tux and monocle). Throw them all together, add a slathering of whipped cream, and you've got a tasty orgy -- which is certainly a high point of the show.
However, the proceedings are consistently dragged down by the workhorse interpretation at the core. If Lulu is meant to embody the simultaneously scary and exhilarating power of female sexuality, shouldn't she evince some pleasure, even if feigned? True, she's a narcissist, but amid all the rampant copulation, the closest approximation of an orgasm on her part is one little sigh, demure as a suppressed burp.
Indeed, except for a scene in which Lulu angrily strong-arms Schon into renouncing his prim-and-proper fiancée, Bryant's seductress comes across more as cipher than force of nature.
Standout performances in supporting roles help to compensate for the vacuum at the core. Jones, especially, is both funny and touching as the countess (reaching for a pastry, for instance, when all the orifices at the orgy appear to be taken). She fully seizes a summary monologue clumsily inserted toward the end, when Lulu is trolling the streets for what will prove her last john.