THEATRE REVIEW: LA RONDE
JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
07 APRIL 2013
TORONTO - When he wrote LA RONDE in 1897 — a controversial play about musical beds in the declining years of the 19th century — playwright Arthur Schnitzler aimed to highlight the hypocrisy at the heart of fin-de-siècle Vienna, where everyone did it, but nobody acknowledged it. In a contemporary update of Schnitzler’s work, playwright Jason Sherman highlights the despondency in a world where everybody does it and talks about it but nobody really feels it.
Where Schnitzler’s work outraged audiences in its delayed première, Sherman’s second Soulpepper adaption of it — the first was in 2001 — is likely to send an audience from the Young Centre, where it premiered Thursday, filled with little more than bemusement and quiet despair.
This is still, however, in many ways, Schnitzler’s play, featuring a daisy chain of sexual trysts between a cast of characters drawn from every level of society.
But where Schnitzler concerned himself with the goings on between counts and courtesans, maids and military personnel, Sherman brings together academics, lawyers, financiers, refugees and filmmakers, playing fast and loose with Schnitzler’s A to B, B to C, C to D sexual progression and even touching lightly on same-sex attraction before chastely averting his eyes. And that’s about the only time he does, for this is graphic stuff, for all that it is presented with such clinical detachment that it is rarely, if ever, titillating, although it is, thanks to Sherman’s often mordant wit, occasionally bleakly amusing.
And though, under the direction of Alan Dilworth, we see a lot more of the ten-member cast — Maev Beaty, Leah Doz, Miranda Edwards, Stuart Hughes, Grace Lynn Kung, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Brandon McGibbon, Adrian Morningstar, Brenda Robins and Mike Ross — than we might expect, it’s safe to assume that neither playwright nor director is likely to be juggling offers from the porn industry for their efforts in bringing life to a world where the screwing one gets from a partner has little or nothing to do with the sex they ‘enjoy.’
But while it is a fearless production in many ways, it is also flawed, marred not only by uneven performances — Lee is particularly weak in a thankless role — but by an over-elaborate staging, courtesy of designer Lorenzo Savoini’s fussy set. Not only do the requisite scene changes consume way too much of the production’s two and a half hour span, things are further complicated by the overly theatrical fracturing of the set, meant to highlight the rather obvious conceit that the world is crumbling around us, one assumes.
Still, if your taste in theatre runs to light, amusing fare, it’s a safe bet to assume that this particular merry-go-round will leave you more than a little nauseous. If, however, you like theatre that reflects warts-and-all life and sends you from the theatre in a questioning, if somewhat despondent frame of mind, then, by all means, climb aboard LA RONDE.