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Monday, October 25, 2021

One-woman play Tilly No-Body: Catastrophes of Love examines life of German playwright’s wife

From tonight to Oct. 24, the Department of Theatre & Dance, in collaboration with Sideshow Physical Theatre, presents a brand new play entitled Tilly No-Body: Catastrophes of Love at the Mondavi Center’s Vanderhoef Studio Theater. Tickets are $15 for students.

The play is a biographical peek into the lives of Frank and Tilly Wedekind, two well-known stars in German visual performance history. The show illustrates how Tilly’s mental mindset changes throughout her life, from her time as her husband’s muse for his award-winning work to after his premature death.

Bella Merlin, UC Davis professor of acting, wrote the play and its five original cabaret songs and said that the setting is similar to a circus.

“Frank’s plays were about trapeze artists and opera singers. So there’s going to be music, magic and puppetry,” Merlin said. “It’s a lot of visions woven together.”

An experienced actor, teacher and playwright, Merlin has taken on the persona of ‘Lulu’, the character name that Frank gave his wife in his plays, before. She tackled the challenge of researching the lives of Frank and Tilly Wedekind in Europe during the creation of this piece.

But to Merlin, the most challenging thing about the performance isn’t the research at all: It’s acting alone onstage for the entire play.

“The real challenge is being able to hold the stage for 70 minutes,” Merlin said. “I have to make sure that the audience doesn’t get bored.”

Merlin speaks highly of director Miles Anderson, who is an actor himself. He thinks that working with one actor, as opposed to a large cast, is different but better because there is more focus on the acting.

“I like to surprise people,” Anderson said. “With one character it’s hard to captivate an audience but Bella pulls it off. This show will be continually surprising.”

Alongside Anderson are other talented theatre department personnel such as senior film studies major Sabba Rahbar as assistant stage manager and senior theatre major Reed Wagner as assistant director. The duo has contributed greatly to what Rahbar calls a small yet amazing show.

“This is my favorite piece,” Rahbar said. “It’s gratifying and it provided us with the opportunity to conduct trial and error. It’s an amazing show with bonus features.”

Having worked behind the scenes on past rock shows, Wagner says that newly produced work is challenging.

“There’s a wide range of happenings,” Wagner said. “But the plot is compelling, it has a solid start, and it’s nice that it’s a small production so we can try things both ways.”

Merlin mentioned that the play has an emphasis on weaving together research, teaching and practicing. She also said the play will leave the audience questioning the concept of someone trying to obtain a new identity.

“Almost everything said in the play is true. There’s very little that’s made up,” Merlin said. “Since it has a certain level of ambiguity, the performance should leave the audience with a disconcerting feeling and a questioning of realness.”

An expert on the Stanislavsky acting process, Merlin’s five published books on method acting will be put to the test.

“It’s about being in character,” Merlin said. “I’ll be commenting on the character I’m portraying with the audience. It’s interactive; real, yet theatrical.”

As a faculty member, Merlin will get a chance to put her profession into action.

“It’s imaginative, it’s physical, and there will be a lot of vocal energy going on,” Merlin said. “And it’s important to have students see their faculty in action.”

There will also be a one-day interdisciplinary symposium on Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Wright Hall. It is entitled Creating and Acting Identity: Practice-as-Research and will go more in-depth about the meaning and undertones of Tilly No-Body. A mixture of faculty, staff and students will be discussing the history of the characters included in the play and much more.

For more information on the symposium or the performance, go to theatredance.ucdavis.edu.

LEA MURILLO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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