In the Mind of Humbertposted on April 9th, 2009 by David Clarke
Modern theater is not the ideal way to tell a story. With the ease and ability to travel through time and space offered by film, the traditional narrative isn’t served by the limitations of performing live. So why bother with the medium? If theater’s audience capacity and practical storytelling ability is so hindered, what’s the point?
Lolita: An Imagined Opera indirectly answers that question. Joji Inc., the company behind Lolita, clearly has little interest in narrative. Their concern is largely aesthetic and psychological, combining video, a live actor, two dancers, and a chamber ensemble to engulf the audience in its disturbed protagonist’s mind.
I don’t know what the experience of Lolita was like for those poor souls in the audience unfamiliar with the source material, but it must not have been easy. Composer Joshua Fineberg and director/designer Jim Clayburgh seem to have little interest in telling a linear, coherent story. And honestly, that’s fine by me. Anyone who wants to know the story can seek out Nabokov’s original text or see the Stanley Kubrick or Adrian Lyne film versions.
Lolita is intense. It never lets go. Protagonist/pedophile Humbert Humbert surrounds the audience. He picks at us, at our assumptions. Articulating my thoughts on Lolita is difficult, since it’s less an intellectual pursuit then an emotional experience. Sure, an understanding of Nabokov’s prose deepens the experience, but nothing I say can translate the way I felt, watching Humbert’s face in close-up, the musicians plugging away at conflicting tones, two dancers silhouetting the titular nymphet literally inside Humbert’s head.
Technically, the piece was an accomplishment. Taking theater/opera to another level, videographer Kurt D’Haeseleer, Fineberg, and Clayburgh deserve credit for pulling it off. Johanne Saunier’s choreography was well suited to the performance and absolutely essential. And François Beukelaers, the lone actor, took us deep into the recesses of a place I certainly didn’t think I’d want to go.
Kubrick made Lolita a sort-of comedy. Lyne went the route of a straight-up romantic drama. By tossing aside almost everything but a faint outline from the source material, this production seems to have gotten to the heart of Lolita. I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit Humbert’s consciousness for a night, even though it’s a place I never want to visit again.
David Clarke is an undergraduate in MSU’s English department.