"Four Humors' Lolita" at the Minnesota Fringe Festival: Kubrick gets his comeuppance

Four Humors’ Lolita does one of the most difficult, most important things a theatrical production can do: it says something interesting about the way we tell stories, especially stories about pain and abuse. It also manages to be riotously entertaining.

While the concept is intriguing and amusing—the production is subtitled A Three Man Show—it’s also full of potential pitfalls. As I overheard a woman in the lobby say, “I always get nervous about shows with men in drag.” The full-figured Brant Miller in a pink bikini is a funny sight, but if that were all this show were about, it wouldn’t have much reason to exist and might even be offensive. 

In fact, it’s about much more than that. Crucially, it’s based on Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous yet beloved 1955 novel. The difference is significant, because Kubrick’s film takes Nabokov’s complex, challenging story and turns it into a farce, full of double-entendres and featuring a Peter Sellers performance that turns the vaporous character of Quilty into a vaudeville sideshow.

The Four Humors show—created by stars Miller, Ryan Lear, and Matt Spring along with Nick Miller and director Jason Ballweber—pushes Kubrick’s approach even farther, and in so doing demonstrates the problem with Kubrick's decision to turn a novel about pedophilia into a dark but broad comedy. Even as it does so, Four Humors’ Lolita underscores a significant theme of Nabokov’s novel, as did Kubrick’s Lolita: the absurdity of human relationships generally.

It’s a minor miracle how many levels Four Humors’ Lolita works on simultaneously. It can be read as both critiquing and complimenting Kubrick and Nabokov; it’s a meta-theatrical satire of itself; and it’s a confident, compelling piece of devised stagecraft. Also, it has Brant Miller in a bikini. What more could you want out of theater—or, for that matter, out of life?

Read Jay Gabler's reviews of previous Four Humors productions Love is Blind...and Furry (2009) and The Extraordinary Terms of Ordinary Life (2011).

Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

528 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

2013 Minnesota Fringe Festival

08/01/2013 (All day) - 08/11/2013 (All day)

Now in its 20th year, Fringe is an annual 11-day performing arts festival. Anyone may apply to Fringe and all the shows you’ll see were selected by lottery.

528 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403

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Jay Gabler's picture
Jay Gabler

Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) is a digital producer at The Current and Classical MPR. He was arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet from 2007-2013.


"absurdity of human relationships"?

Jay, I wonder what you mean when you say that a major theme of the novel is "the absurdity of human relationships." If you'll pardon my saying so, this is pretentious bullshit; straining for profundity does not become you (or anyone else). And I'm perplexed by your claim that the show turns Nabokov's novel into a "dark but broad comedy." Anyone who has read Lolita knows that it's a dark comedy, though not a broad one. Are you sure you've read it? If not, shouldn't you be a little more tentative in pronouncing judgment on the achievement of this show?

Based on your comment and username

I don't want to see any shows by Hardcover Theater. 


I have indeed read the novel, multiple times. My comment about "the absurdity of human relationships" was intentionally ambiguous, since each reader has his or her own interpretation of the novel—but in general, I meant to indicate that one reason Lolita resonates so widely is it criticizes (or, depending on your interpretation, celebrates) the very notion of romantic love. Maybe my statement wasn't sufficiently qualified—maybe there's nothing particularly absurd about one's relationship with, say, one's postman—but that's what I was getting at.

The comment about turning the novel into a "dark but broad comedy" was meant to describe Kubrick's film, which I was complimenting the Four Humors show for criticizing. I've revised that sentence to make that more clear.