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