Thursday, October 21, 2010

New play about Tilly Wedekind

(adapted from my article on

Frank Wedekind (1864-1918) is a German playwright best known to fans of Louise Brooks as the author of the Lulu plays, which served as the basis for the actress’s later 1929 silent film, Pandora’s Box.

Frank Wedekind was married to an actress named Tilly. She was a singular personality who appeared alongside her husband in some of his most famous works. Tilly even appeared as Lulu in Pandora’s Box back in 1905. (The black and white image below depicts Tilly as Lulu with Wedekind as Schon in an early staging of Lulu.)

A one woman stage play based on the life of Tilly Wedekind, the playwright’s wife and muse, has recently had its world premiere in Davis, California. This new play is called Tilly No-Body: Catastrophes of Love. It’s by Bella Merlin, and is based on many years research by the author. Merlin is a British-born actress and teacher now based at the University of California, Davis. Like Tilly, Merlin once played Lulu in a staging of Lulu (in London in the 1990s). That’s when Merlin got interested in the actress behind the character.

Tilly was devoted to her husband’s work, and during their marriage he wrote powerful plays fueled by their tempestuous relationship. Frank often insisted that Tilly play the female leads.

This 75 minute play follows Tilly's tumbling thoughts. Beginning with her attempted suicide and travelling backwards in time, it weaves together biography, letters, dramatic incidents, puppets, and original songs; Merlin traces the course of the Wedekinds’ passionate marriage, which ended in Tilly’s Frank’s premature death.

This new work is a production of the Sideshow Physical Theatre Company in collaboration with the University of California, Davis Department of Theatre & Dance. Tilly No-Body: Catastrophes of Love is directed by Miles Anderson, with music by David Roesner. (Sample the song, “Tilly Dances,” at

Performances of Tilly No-Body: Catastrophes of Love runs through October 24 at the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in Davis (which is near Sacramento). For more info, check out Bella Merlin’s production blog at An information page about the play can also be found at

I won't have a chance to see this play. But, I would love to hear from anybody who might.

A postscript to this blog: Tilly Wedekind (1885-1970) lived a long time and even wrote a book, Lulu Die Rolle Meines Lebens, which was published in 1969. It has never been translated from the German. Tilly also appeared in four films, according to IMDb. There is also a book about her called Briefe an Tilly Wedekind, 1930-1955, by Gottfried Benn, which was published in 1986. I have a copy of Tilly's book, but have yet to track down a copy of the Benn book.

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