The Rep at Pittsburgh Playhouse has a production of a celebrated work by famed Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler. The original name is Reigen but it’s more often known by the French title La Ronde despite the setting being Vienna in the year 1900. This version has been translated into English by Frank and Jacqueline Marcus.
The play has often been described as social commentary about morals and class, depicted through a round of sexual encounters between pairs of characters, while implying that they are also passing on venereal disease. 20 scenes involve 10 characters, each portrayed twice.
This production, directed by Robin Walsh, most looks like an academic exercise designed to show off the original concept while given scant creative interpretation. Certainly the behavior in the play could be relevant today, but Walsh opted to have her designers give it a period look and to have her cast play it as if it were a period piece. It does look colorful with impressive costumes and clever staging, a surface which may dovetail with Schnitzler’s take on people’s superficiality, but Walsh and her cast don’t get enough beneath the surface, even though two actors transcend the limitations, with specific, memorable personalities.
Schnitzler’s characters are given generic names even though the dialogue sometimes includes actual names. Beyond the generic, the challenge remains for a director to get variety and meaning within the dialogue and behavior. I found several actors delivering the lines as if the words and emphases were shallow, possibly justified by Schnitzler’s concept. but that diminishes the value of what they say and diminishes audience involvement. For example, many characters talk of needing avowals of love. In this production that gets played as if no emotional needs ever lie behind such talk. A more creative interpretation could have made it look as if some of the drive towards sexual fulfillment could be actual need for love. In real life promiscuity can be a search for tenderness and approval, rather than merely a bodily function. Similarly missing is these performances ,each character is shown with two different partners where behavior could legitimately vary from partner to partner but doesn’t do so. Moreover the characters seem to be eager and willing rather than ever reluctant or dubious about improvised sex. Implying hesitancy, at times. if not outright unwilling seduction, could have also made this more interesting.
Much of the cast goes through the predictable, vigorous paces with vitality and skill, although some substitute vocal volume for any other kind of intensity. Nonetheless Mallory Campbell as Sweet Young Thing comes across with individual charm and depth as does Christopher Spare, bringing subtle perception to the role of Count.
Clearly much more could be done with this play.
La Ronde continues through next Sunday October 24th at Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Avenue, Oakland. 412/621-4445 www.pittsburghplayhouse.com