Lola Montez settles into her chariot, a character half silent movie heroine and half goth-girl goddess. Swathed in shiny black-a tight top, see-through skirt, leather collar, and mantilla-she sits imperiously, urging her steeds on with a riding crop. The steeds, a pair of curly-haired satyrs, trot along, bitching about their mistress’s origins and upbringing. Lola’s veiled handmaiden runs behind.
In Lola Montez in Bavaria, writer-director John Jahnke has reimagined the history play as phantasm. He selects several real figures-Bavarian king Ludwig I, his grandson the prince, and Lola herself-places them in a not unlikely situation (a garden party for the young prince), then abandons naturalism entirely. One of the satyrs transforms into Richard Wagner and leads the company in an excerpt from Tannhäuser; Lola and her maid perform a jerky rendition of the famous spider dance; the three-year-old prince speaks like an effete scholar, and professes a homoerotic attachment to the great composer.
Woven into these extraordinary events and lengthy discussions of 19th-century politics are themes of decadence, disguise, and self-mythologizing. That’s a lot of content for Jahnke to juggle, and he succeeds better in his direction than in his script. The exquisite stage pictures and performances he elicits from his actors -particularly Christina Campanella as Lola and Tony Torn as the king-do much to cloak the deliberateness of the text and its tendency toward didacticism. In the end, the play’s intentions and arguments remain murky, but, as Lola herself says, “Where there is no mystery, there is no interest.”