The character of Lulu might have seemed forever stuck in the trope of the heavy-lidded femme fatale—might have, that is, had it not been for the recent presentation, by the Jean Cocteau Repertory, of the whole of Frank Wedekind’s gigantic Lulu play. This was its first staging anywhere in English, in a new translation by Eric Bentley. The history of the work, like its nomenclature, is tangled.

Wedekind, born in Hannover, Germany, in 1864, went to school in Switzerland and based his first dramatic masterpiece, Spring’s Awakening (1891), on his adolescent experiences there. This astonishing play, at once satiric exaggeration and ecstatic celebration of the overheated passions of youth, included—boldly, cavalierly, casually included —sex, abortion, suicide, and homosexuality. It was, in Wedekind’s words, “generally regarded as unheard-of filth.” Max Reinhardt was daring enough to...

 
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