by Ed Malin · March 8, 2015
Laura von Holt, Anne Gridley | Michael Levinton
Examining the unmentionable seems to be the theatrical mission of Little Lord.
Their current show at The Brick, written by Michael Levinton and Laura von Holt and directed by Michael Levinton, has the unmentionable title BambiF@cker/Kaffeehaus and sheds light on several fascinating aspects of life in early 20th Century Vienna. When you enter, you will notice a complement of spiffy Viennese coffeehouse waiters (Alex Birnie, Dominic Finocchiaro, Polly Lee, Michael Levinton, and Laura von Holt). Even the ladies wear moustaches. They serve you your choice of treats and usher you to your seats around the perimeter of the space, which is decorated in Little Lord style with glitzy, repurposed popular culture artifacts such as mounted deer heads and paintings. When the elegant waiters turn around, you might notice they are only wearing underwear, no pants. And then this provocative, multimedia production begins to delve into the confluence of high and low culture, harmless literature versus the perverse kind, Jewish identity versus passing as anything else, etc.
The beloved children’s book Bambi: A Life In The Woods was written in 1923 by Felix Salten, child of Jewish immigrants and a journalist associated with Theodor Herzl’s Zionist paper “Die Welt”. Salten had been a part of the 1890s generation of young Viennese writers which included Arthur Schnitzler. Salten is also held to be the author of the 1906 anonymous story of the prostitute Josephine Mutzenbacher, which apparently has spawned many pornographic film adaptations. Only when you consider all of these influences could the ensuing performance make sense and promote discussion about human nature.
The coffeehouse is startled by the entrance of a young deer (Joshua William Gelb), who wears antlers and high-heeled shoes on his hands and feet. The waiters question the deer about his outsider status, and then act out various sexual fantasies. At this point, you realize that the show has shifted gears to present the wisdom of Josephine Mutzenbacher, famous literary whore. An enormous rabbit (Elizabeth Barret Groth), the Thumper of the Bambi story, appears at various points. The performers walk Bambi through a traditional Austrian folk dance, which is just awkward for Bambi, being a deer. Or is it because he is a Jew? More readings from Bambi emphasize the themes of running and hiding, and eventually show how Bambi’s cousin Gobo (Anne Grindley) is hunted down. Back and forth the play jumps between the world of animals on the run and the sex life of a woman-survivor. Neither women nor animals penned either of these narratives. Also keep in mind that Hitler banned Bambi in 1936, several years before the Disney animated version was made. What is so Nazi-repellant about Bambi? Is it because the name of the Zionist visionary “Herzl” is Yiddish for “deer”?
Thank goodness Little Lord provided background information about Salten on the back of their Kaffeehaus menus. The stories this production ties together add up to a compelling whole, but, in keeping with the theme, are presented in a non-linear, indirect fashion. Of course, the Vienna in which Salten and Herzl lived was also home to the scandalous psychoanalysis of Freud and Schnitzler. People have a hard time talking about sex and death, just as they are not so inclined to ask why Jews would want to leave the Anti-Semitism of Europe for Israel (either back then or right now). If you are any kind of “outsider” or “minority”, you may be nodding your head in agreement with this work. (Yes, women are actually the majority on this planet, but still.) Elizabeth Barett Groth designed the remarkable set and costumes. Whitney G-Bowley’s choreography and video link the play’s 19th and 21st century elements very nicely.