Originally written in Vienna in 1897, during the period when Sigmund Freud was developing his psychoanalytical theories of human sexuality, Arthur Schnitzler’s LA RONDE was first printed and distributed only for his friends. Comprised of ten sequential scenes of interconnecting sexual encounters with consecutive partners that come full circle at play’s end (hence the title “The Round”), the scandalous work was banned in German-speaking countries in 1904, a year after its public release, and engendered accusations that its author was a “Jewish pornographer.”
Today’s audiences no longer find the erotic subject, simulated sex acts, and ever-changing couples shocking, and the socio-sexual mores that Schnitzler examined in the late 19th century are not indicative of 21st-century attitudes and behavior. So director Brenna Geffers takes a new approach in her experimental adaptation, with a more inclusive representation of sexual orientations (not just hetero-centric episodes) and a less restrictive view of gender roles, using some reverse casting for what were traditionally male or female characters (e.g., Brendan Norton plays The Actress and Hannah Van Sciver is The Poet).
In addition to deconstructing and reimagining the parts and characterizations, Geffers also removes the period piece from the context of the stage, and places it in a period setting, so that it’s not just the characters who make the rounds, but also the audience. Now staged as a site-specific work throughout the historic (1765) Powel House and garden, the attendees are not seated and stationary, but walk freely around the venue, from room to room and scene to scene, following the actors (the engaging Colleen Corcoran, Anthony Crosby, Robert DaPonte, Kayla Grasser, Dan Higbee, Emilie Krause, Michael Lienhard, Shamus McCarty, Lee Minora, Norton, and Van Sciver) as they change partners in their secret trysts. The immersive experience thereby creates as much a sensibility of voyeurism as theater-going, with each viewer intentionally invading the private spaces, eavesdropping on the personal conversations, and observing the intimate assignations.
In so doing, we are brought fully into the “right-to-privacy” issues of our current age, inundated with reckless posts on social media, rampant selfies, and unchecked digital spying. Those allusions reinforce the nihilistic attitude of LA RONDE that “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters,” and that everything, and everyone, is open and available for consumption by others. Geffers’ experiment successfully brings contemporary import and a post-modern context to Schnitzler’s now-historic drama; even her program notes for the production acknowledge that the original German-language script was “Translated by Google.”
[Powel House, 244 S. 3rd Street] October 25-November 1, 2015; facebook.com/events/1684002225147388..