Thursday, May 9, 2002

Pretty in their Freudian Slips

by Robert Dominguez

"Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited)" brought to mind an old, well-known illustration of Sigmund Freud.

Titled "What's on a Man's Mind," the drawing is an optical illusion—Freud's face, beard and hairline also form the image of a smiling nude woman.

It was a fitting image: It seems that sex is always on the minds of the characters—male and female—in this haunting, beautifully staged dance-theater piece that unfolds like a languid, erotic dream before running out of steam.

Freud, a citizen of Vienna, could have written a sequel to "The Interpretation of Dreams" based on this work. Directed by choreographer Martha Clarke, in a revival of her 1986 production, it combines movement, music and text in surreal vignettes set in early-20th-century Vienna.

Clarke's inspiration is the city's role as a springboard for modern art, philosophy and psychology, and its militarism, which foreshadowed two world wars and the rise of Hitler. While the piece touches on the cultural and artistic forces, it's sex that drives "Lusthaus" (the name of a 16th-century pleasure pavilion in a Viennese park).

The action takes place in a spare white room behind a scrim, giving the show a hazy, dreamlike quality. Musicians drift on and offstage as actor-dancers bare their subconscious desires—and their bodies—in scenes written in an ambiguous, lyrical prose by Charles L. Mee.

A man tells of an acquaintance who flew through the air at an opera and pulled out two of his teeth. An older woman, spying on young lovers, ends up kissing the man. Naked couples are locked in passionate embraces.

It's a gorgeous production, but thhe stream-of-consciousness psychobabble loses its luster. Watching "Lusthaus" is like listening to a friend describe his dreams—despite the naughty details, it eventually grows dull.

Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited)
Created and directed by Martha Clarke.
Text by Charles L. Mee.
Music by Richard Peaslee.
At New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th Street.