Tonight Lola Blau
"Tonight: Lola Blau," by George Kreisler
La MaMa E.T.C. (The Club), 74A East Fourth Street, East Village
March 13-22, 2009
Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m., Sundays at 5:30 p.m.; $15
Tickets: (212) 475-7110 or www.lamama.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, March 16, 2009
There are certain political predicaments surely no one wishes to be in: for instance, what do you do if your homeland is taken over by some monstrous power? How long do you remain, hoping change is possible? And if you do leave, where do you go? Then, should the occupying forces be defeated, when do you return, and how do you react to what you may find? Such matters are pondered in "Tonight: Lola Blau," a one-person show written and composed by George Kreisler and presented in an English version by Don White, directed by Dick Top. Although morally serious, it resembles a cabaret act.
Kreisler, a composer and satirist, devised this piece in 1971, and after its initial run in Vienna it has been successfully produced in German and Israeli theaters. Now it has come to America in an English version by Don White, starring Anna Krämer in the title role. Kreisler's score and lyrics evoke old jazz, musical comedy, and revue styles, and often recall Kurt Weill. Krämer, who comes from Germany, performs with admirable changes of emotional tone, most of the time speaking and singing in clear English, although her diction occasionally has inexplicably mushy moments. She is ably assisted by her pianist, Joe Völker, who also plays minor roles with comic gusto. The English lyrics and text of White's translation abound with playful rhymes, yet some sound too compulsively clever.
The story is simple and saddening. Lola, a Viennese cabaret artist at the time of the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, is initially reluctant to leave her native land. Finally, after losing her job, she escapes to America, telling herself, "Chin up, keep smiling, that's life." When she decides to return to Vienna after World War II, what she finds is denial, a refusal by many Austrians to admit that they in any way supported the Anschluss and that they were villains as well as victims. Moreover, Lola discovers, anti-Semitism has returned, and she sadly notes, "All is starting all over again. All around me I hear silent voices."
"Tonight: Lola Blau" is at its strongest in its opening and closing scenes. Lola's bewilderment at the prejudice she suddenly encounters in 1938 is convincing. Even more powerful are Krämer's expressions of Lola's dismay over post-war Austria. Kreisler could even have devoted more scenes, or a whole play, to the phenomenon of refusing to face the facts, for parts of the production seem rather bland, and the text, for all its wordplay, sometimes lacks ferocity. Also, it is occasionally hard to tell if some of the songs are Lola's autobiographical musings or just numbers in her cabaret act. A jaunty ditty that assures us that "Sex is a wonderful habit" may be part of Lola's show, but when, in another song, she bitterly pleads, "Mr. Siegel, make it legal for me," is she portraying a fictional character or telling the truth about her own life? And if it's truth, this is a plot development that's soon abandoned. In any case, Krämer knows how to make her voice harsh or sweet as situations demand. She holds attention.
Kreisler deserves praise for his willingness to raise tough issues. Yet one could wish that he had presented them with greater force.