By Arthur Schnitzler
Directed by Ted Witzel
Featuring Lauren Gillis, Mariana Medellin-Meinke, Marcel Dragonieri, Raffaele Ciampaglia, Michael David Blostein, Milan Malisic, Maarika Pinkney, Tyson James, Eve Wylden, and Beau Dixon
Runs until June 4 @ Club Wicked
By Jeff Maus
The text of La Ronde is a product of the early 20th Century. It is frank, adult, and earnest in its presentation of sex. The play is very ‘modern,’ in the dawn-of-the-twentieth-century tradition. Written in 1897 Vienna by Arthur Schnitzler, it’s scene structure, dialogue, and characters all have the recognizable progressive elements of the time. This makes for a dynamic juxtaposition with the more modern burlesque setting, and the Rocky Horror meets Bernardo Bertolucci sensibility of the production.
Not there just to shock the audience or spice up a conventional narrative, sex is literally what the play is about. It isn’t that the red light district’s presentation of the play at Club Wicked is free from shock or heat; it is for adults in every sense. I went in with no knowledge of the play or the production, and was surprised all the way through.
The analytical play unfolds in a series of vignettes with different couples copulating, and what happened before or after. The characters in them are from all walks of life, among them a chambermaid, a noble, a husband and wife, an actor, a soldier, and a prostitute. The different seductions vary in tone, and present characters in situations that we never return to.
The intensity of the audacious staging and the structure of the play make it difficult for characters to form a strong connection with the audience, and vice versa. The production presents the large cast of characters in a dizzying and layered world immersing the audience in action taking place all around the room. The actors deliver lines walking on the bar, climbing past large golden mirrors to the ceiling, in a giant birdcage, from the audience; the use of the space is effective if not occasionally awkward. The fourth wall is pretty tenuous when actors are only inches away, looking you in the eye. On the other hand, live theatre with your own personal cinematic close-ups has a weird power.
Lauren Gillis, Milan Malisic, and Maarika Pinkney are the best of the very strong cast. All three are like anchors that allow this ambitious production to work. Gillis is a natural, possessed with a preternatural stage presence. She transcended the play, cutting through the dense staging and structure to create a real character. Malisic’s performance is understated and real, bringing a gravity to his scenes. Pinkney in particular owns the whole room when on as her prima donna character. More than any other she moves way beyond the stage and around the entire space succeeding in a challenge that allows her performance to close the show on a very high note.