The Spotlight: Nicholas Kazan on 'Mlle. God' at Atwater Village Theatre
From Claus von Bülow to Patty Hearst, Oscar nominee Nicholas Kazan has brought to life his share of controversial characters. His latest play, “Mlle. God,” riffs on Frank Wedekind’s notorious fin de siècle dramas about Lulu, a libidinous free spirit for whom sex is a sacrament. Staged by Ensemble Studio Theatre L.A., “Mlle. God” inaugurates the new Atwater Village Theatre.
What inspired you to reconsider Lulu?
Kazan: Watching Louise Brooks in “Pandora’s Box,” G.W. Pabst’s 1929 film adaptation of Wedekind’s plays. Wedekind saw his story as a tragedy; Louise Brooks sees it as a triumph.
Your Lulu not only uses sex for pleasure but also as a form of radical honesty.
People say “Mlle. God” is a feminist play. I don’t write from any political personality, but I do have a lot of empathy for women. A woman who overtly seeks and acknowledges her own pleasure is almost always punished. That seems like an awful message, and contrary to the character Wedekind created.
“Mlle. God” begins as a rather bittersweet comedy, becomes a door-slamming farce, and ends on an intensely dramatic note.
I’m replicating the spirit of the original material. Wedekind’s famous for mixing farce and melodrama. And I guess I always look for the comic angle.
Even in a film like “Patty Hearst”?
The SLA [Symbionese Liberation Army] basically told the press, we’re an army and you should be scared of us. Well, there were only eight of them, and factions within the group. They were a bunch of woolly-headed lefties who didn’t know quite what they were doing. So there was this wild comic landscape against which dramatic events were taking place. Paul [Schrader] made a much more austere film than I wrote.
You’ve created a number of complicated heroines for the screen: Patty, Frances Farmer, Sunny von Bülow. Do you seek out these characters, or do they find you?
I didn’t even want to write “Reversal of Fortune.” I just said OK, let me play with this. It started to write itself.
The scene where Jeremy Irons goes into the pharmacy and asks for insulin is one of the great movie moments.
That last scene was the first thing I wrote.
“Mlle. God” features plenty of skin and adult talk. How do you approach writing about sex?
A lot of people are deeply ambivalent about sexuality. To me, sex is a form of play. I wanted to approach the material with that spirit. If you can give people some of that feeling, maybe it’ll diminish their fear. What we all want is to be freely alive in all contexts. Particularly in the activity that’s the foundation of our creation.
How are audiences reacting to the show?
A few people have walked out. I think if no one left I’d be disappointed! But the other night, one of the actors said, 'You can hear the audience listening. They’re really with the play.' That pleases me. The last thing I want to do is bore people.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
At the Atwater Village Theatre through March 6. Read Stoudt's review of "Mlle. God" here.
Photo: Nicholas Kazan. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times