The Lorelei (7m, 6w with most actors playing multiple roles) has a simple unit set with steps on both sides of the stage leading to an upper level. DR a bench, chairs, and an armchair; R a table; L a desk with chair; LC a sofa; UL a piano, a potted plant, a window, a door, and a large empty oval wooden frame (a painting and a mirror through which players look downstage at the action). “All locations are present simultaneously and different parts of the stage represent many different places as necessary. Players not directly involved in scenes are often looking on from the window, the mirror, the upper platform, peeking in the door, or from behind the piano. Players can enter and exit easily from just about anywhere onstage, and also have escape stairs upstage to facilitate movement on to the platform. There are no set changes and no breaks between scenes. The action must flow continuously, with as many ways to get from one part of the set to another as possible. The scenes blend into one another like one continuous dream.”
The stage is dark as we listen to an orchestral version of “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde; then lights come up on Lou Salome and Freud (perhaps 1913) and Nietzsche sitting in his chair (perhaps 1888). Lou tells Freud she hates Wagner and can’t hear his music without thinking of Nietzsche. Nietzsche talks about getting on the wrong train and says he is the chief jester at an existential clown funeral. Lou says she met Nietzsche through Paul Ree, who comes in and walks with her (in Rome, 1882) while Freud sits at his desk and Nietzsche in his chair. Lou says that she wants to meet Nietzsche and we hear the “Kyrie” from Palestrina’s Missa Brevis as light streams down as if from the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. A Nun tries to chaperone three excited Schoolgirls as Nietzsche joins Lou who suggests that God may be the Devil, horrifying the Nun who hurries away with the Schoolgirls. Nietzsche tells Lou he is hopelessly in love with her, and Freud suggest that Nietzsche might be dangerous. Nietzsche and Ree both want to marry Lou and Nietzsche describes how he proposed unsuccessfully to Mathilde Trampedach. Lou says she doesn’t want to marry either Nietzsche or Ree and suggests that they live together as friends. Freud questions her and we hear the sound of birds as Nietzsche and Lou walk on Mount Sacro while the three Schoolgirls, giggling, arrange a picnic downstage. Lou says that after her father died she spent time with a young clergyman name Gillot. Freud and Nietzsche have moved to the shadows and Gillot is at the desk. Gillot tells Lou she must tell him a story every day, and Freud says she fell in love with her teacher. The three Schoolgirls, now dressed as Rhine Maidens, hum Liszt’s Lorelei as they sit at the edge of the platform combing each other’s hair. Gillot says he would divorce his wife and marry Lou if she wanted that, but she says she is going to see the world and meet brilliant people who can teach her things. The Rhine Maidens look at Gillot sadly and leave. Freud asks Lou why she ran away from Gillot when he said he desired her. Lou says she learned not to worship men and that Nietzsche understood that because he worshipped Wagner.
Nietzsche says that the day he was to meet Wagner for the first time he had to get a new pair of pants. The Tailor says Nietzsche has to pay what he owes and each grabs one leg of the trousers, pulling until each ends up holding one leg. Ree enters and, at Nietzsche’s request, takes off his pants so that Nietzsche may wear them to meet Wagner. We hear the overture to “The Flying Dutchman” as Wagner sits at the desk. The Rhine Maidens are now three lovely well-dressed guests chatting with Liszt and von Bulow as Wagner’s wife, Cosima, talks with Nietzsche. She tells him to talk with Wagner and Wagner speaks of creation, of other men’s wives and daughters, and Liszt remarks that having Wagner for a son-in-law is like handing your daughter to the trolls. The Wagnerites drift away, leaving Nietzsche and Lou back at Mount Sacro. Lou says she has no morals and doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse although she has thought about it. She says Ree hates himself and Nietzsche. Nietzsche mentions that he once played a piano in a brothel and we hear thunder and rain as the lights dim to red and we hear an old piano playing a music-hall version of Liszt’s Lorelei. The Rhine Maidens are now the girls in the brothel. Nietzsche says he felt very confused, drifting in and out of consciousness as he played the piano, and the girls pull him away from the piano and engulf him. We hear the sound of a rooster and the music fades as the girls disappear into the shadows, leaving Nietzsche on the floor in some disorder. When he says no one wants to touch him, Lou cradles his head against her breast and strokes his hair.
Freud asks her what happened then and Ree asks Lou if Nietzsche kissed her. She says they talked and that women are not the Devil but flesh and blood creatures. Ree tells Nietzsche that he is embarrassing Lou, that she pities him. He says that Lou will destroy him and Nietzsche says it might as well be her. We hear birds singing and Nietzsche tells us that he is waiting for her in a park in Lucerne, that all is suffering, but humiliation will have meaning if she loves him and will marry him. Lou says a woman has two choices: freedom or sex and she has chosen freedom. She just wants to be his friend. Nietzsche says he is relieved and suggests they have a photograph taken in which Lou has a whip and Nietzsche and Ree are donkeys. We hear the sound of “The Flying Dutchman” overture and Wagner, Cosima, Liszt, von Bulow, and the Rhine Maidens as guests enter. Lou introduces herself as a friend of Nietzsche and Wagner invites her to a séance. She shows him the photograph, but after Wagner and the others leave Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth tells Lou to stay away from her brother.
As Lou and Freud watch from the shadows, Elisabeth tells Nietzsche how Lou made fun of him in from of Wagner, but Lou steps forward and tells her that Bernhard Forster is in the parlor and Elisabeth leaves. Nietzsche says he has read Lou’s manuscript and feels there is a kind of holy communion between their souls. Lou says they would drive each other mad and Elisabeth storms in, accusing Lou of torturing her brother. Lou leaves and Elisabeth tells Nietzsche he should lie down. She says she will give him a bath. We hear the sound of a ticking clock as Ree and Lou talk about Nietzsche and their relationship. When Ree tries to kiss her she pulls away from him and he leaves. We hear wind, rain, and the ticking clock as Elisabeth works at the desk and Nietzsche talks about not hearing from Lou. Elisabeth reads her revisions to the letter Nietzsche wrote to Lou, telling Lou that she has “a cruelly displaced sensuality” and is “lacking character and incapable of loving.” Nietzsche tells her to add a row of hugs and kisses at the bottom. Elisabeth goes out and the Rhine Maidens appear, humming Lorelei softly as the old piano plays and Ree enters dragging a cart. Lou tells the men to get in the harness and she raises the whip as they pose for the photograph. There is a click and a flash and the lights go out on Act One.
We hear the sound of Lorelei as lights come up on Lou and Freud with Papa in the mirror/picture frame. Freud asks Lou why she let Nietzsche drift out of her life. Lou says she didn’t want to be trapped, by anybody, and Freud wants her to explore her relationship with her father. She says she adored him and her older brothers and that her father spanked her when she lied, not realizing that her lies were like a series of interlocking novels she was writing in her head. She says her marriage was a sensible arrangement between two rational people and Andreas, “stout, swarthy, with curly, greasy hair,” enters, telling her that she is the woman he is going to marry. He says he speaks nineteen languages and, taking out a knife, stabs himself in the chest. She says she will not marry him, and he stabs himself again. She says she will marry him on condition that they have no sex. He agrees and staggers off as Ree enters. She tells him she is going to marry Andreas but that it won’t change anything between them. Ree says he is done with her and leaves. Lou tells Freud she asked Gillot to perform the wedding ceremony. Gillot tells her he doesn’t want to do it but she threatens to tell his wife he once tried to molest her. She hands him an envelope with the wedding invitation and he leaves. Freud asks her why she blackmailed Gillot and she says her father was dead and she wanted Gillot to give her away.
As Lou and Freud watch, Elisabeth tells Nietzsche she has decided to marry Bernhard Forster and move to Paraguay to create a pure Aryan society unpolluted by mongrel elements. She tells her brother that Lou is getting married and goes off as Nietzsche watches Freud talk with Lou about her travelling all over Europe with a variety of men. Wedekind appears and tells Lou that he wants to go to bed with her. He says she derives erotic pleasure from being desired and thinks that she won’t be desired if she gives herself completely. Freud asks her why she would put herself in a compromising position with someone like Wedekind, taking greater and greater risks of real physical intimacy. And then, Freud says, his colleague Zemek took her to a madhouse.
We hear groans, cries, and the babbling of the mad as Zemek tells Lou she can wait outside but she finds it stimulating to plunge into the abyss of the irrational. One of the mad, The Sybil, tells Lou they have been waiting for her, and another inmate, The Flying Dutchman, pulls Lou away and the three Rhine Maidens close in on her until Zemek cracks a horse whip at them. Zemek kisses Lou and the inmates close in and cover them, babbling and chattering until Lou breaks away. She tells Freud that the night in the madhouse released something in her. Freud says that shortly after she began her relationship with Rilke. The young poet comes in and sits at the table, writing. Freud asks Lou if he was her first actual sexual experience and she wonders why man are so obsessed with that subject. Rilke tells Lou that when she told him he could make love to her if he wanted he was amazed. When he asks her how many others there have been she says he is to only one. She tells him her husband is coming and Andreas sits at the table and starts peeling an apple. Freud tells Lou that she is an obsessive constructor of triangles, unconsciously recreating the same situation over and over again, always abandoning those who love her. She says she and Rilke and Andreas went to Russia to visit Tolstoy, and he appears trying to fix a cuckoo clock. Lou tells him that they are in awe of his writing, but he says all novels are garbage and the theatre is a whore house filled with clowns and sewage. Hi wife screams at him from offstage about the visitors and he shouts back that they are just some Germans. She shouts that the Germans have stolen her soup tureen and Tolstoy excuses himself to try to find it.
We hear the sound of thunder and an eerie version of Tristan und Isolde as Nietzsche wanders and the three Rhine Maidens, now Nymphs, watch from the platform. Nietzsche says he has been wandering in thunderstorms, eating grass like Nebuchadnezzar and Lear. He asks that the music stop, and it does. He says he is the god Dionysus and dares any deity who has the bad taste to believe he exists to strike him down. We hear a great clap of thunder as Nietzsche is struck by lightning. Elisabeth says she has returned from Paraguay because her husband cut his throat. The Nymphs start to tap bones together, “two beats and a pause, like a heartbeat, gradually louder.” Elisabeth says that Nietzsche has turned into one of his own books. Nietzsche raves about Eternal Recurrence, stupidity, and malice and Elisabeth wants him to sign some papers. The Nymphs warn him not so sign, but he does. Elisabeth says she now has power of attorney and can scratch out parts of his manuscripts that she doesn’t like. We hear the beating of a drum as the Nymphs dance around Nietzsche, gradually removing his clothing. He raves about women, God as the father of evil, and being the Clown of God as he dances wildly in a loincloth until the Nymphs, growling like dogs, drag him behind the sofa and start tearing him to pieces. One holds up a severed arm, another a leg, and the third his head. We hear an eerie, screeching train whistle and, after the lights black out, the sound of train wheels on tracks.
Lights come up on Lou and Rilke sitting in two chairs next to each other as if on a train. Freud watches from his desk in the shadows as Rilke reads a newspaper. He tells Lou that Nietzsche is dead. Papa appears in the picture frame and Lou tells Rilke that she will no longer have sex with him, but everything else will stay the same. After he leaves, Lou talks with Freud about how, according to Freud, Lou is drawn to men because of the power of their minds, transforms her admiration into erotic desire, but, to become like the men, she has to kill them by withdrawing her love. Lou says that after Rilke she returned to her husband, and we see Marie the maid crying on the sofa. Marie runs out as Andreas enters and tells Lou that Marie is going to have a baby and that he is the father. After Andreas leaves, Freud asks Lou what happened to the maid. Lou says she had the baby and that as the child grew she and Lou became good friends. She tells Freud that children destroy a woman’s freedom and childbirth terrifies her. She speaks of Rilke and he comes on to tell her he is getting married because he needs to be with somebody he can know and that Lou moves through her life like an actor moves from one play to the next, even rewriting her diaries. She says a complete break with him is necessary.
When Rilke leaves Lou tells Freud that Rilke’s marriage was unhappy and that Freud believes in the acceptance of unhappiness. He says the real question is why she can’t bring herself to accept and express enduring human love. She says that love is a ridiculous, pathetic, and ultimately tragic attempt to hold on to a delusion based on a complete misunderstanding of human nature. She says he is betraying his wife with her sister. He asks her why, if she is so happy, she asked a friend to get her some poison. She says his whole work is a gigantic fictional construction and he says that doesn’t alter the fact that she persistently seeks out father-figures so she can seduce and destroy them. He says the answer is not to deny that love is real but to learn to love without hope. He leaves Lou alone and we hear the wind of a storm brewing as the lights dim. A flash of lightning reveals Nietzsche who says God’s funeral is about to start. We hear Wagner’s Siegfried Funeral March as Ree, Gillot, Andreas, and Rilke carry out a coffin, followed by Cosima, Elisabeth, and the three Rhine Maidens, all in mourning. The coffin is placed downstage of the sofa. Nietzsche knocks on the coffin five times and the lid opens as God sits up, asking for cheese. He recognizes Lou as a girl who used to pray to him when she was a child. He says he’s sorry that he never got back to her, but the sound of praying made a hideous buzzing in his ears and drove him insane. Even dead he can hear the damned voices. Nietzsche asks if he loved “us,” and God, recognizing Lou as his daughter, crawls out of the coffin, pulling her upstage and bending her over the sofa. He says she is a liar and must be punished. He takes off his belt and beats her seven times. She cries; he says he is sorry, and crawls back into the coffin. The mourners drift away and Ree comes back, dragging the cart. Lou says she has a feeling this has happened before and Nietzsche says everything has happened before and will happen again. Ree and Nietzsche pose where the donkeys would be and Lou raises the whip. There is a click and a flash as in the taking of a photo, and the lights go out. We hear Lorelei in the darkness.