Arthur Schnitzler (Austrian) wrote La Ronde (German title Reigen) in 1897, but it was so scandalous that it wasn’t formally produced until 1920, in Berlin. Schnitzler was charged with obscenity - it was too much even for the Weimar Republic - and he withdrew it from production.
La Ronde - need I say? - focuses on sex. It’s the rare example of a play without structure that works perfectly, and this is so because of its concept. There are ten scenes, each centering round the act of sex. One character in the first scene shows up in the second with a new partner; the character we just met in the second scene shows up in the third with a new partner, and so on. The girl in the first scene, whom we did not see again in the second scene, we meet again in the tenth, to complete the ring.
David Hare adapted La Ronde into a play called The Blue Room, first produced in London in 1998. It’s designed to be performed by one actor and one actress, each playing five roles. I’ve never understood how this choice was supposed to improve on the source material. Part of the point of La Ronde is that these characters are all different from another, sex being the equalizer, the common denominator. The biggest problem is that all the characters become, of course, more or less the same age. Still, it’s a very good play in concept, characters and dialogue. Schnitzler’s play has been updated, but without conceptual change.
The Bridge Production Group is presenting a very nice production of The Blue Room in a tiny space, The Whitebox Art Gallery. Max Hunter directs himself and Christina Toth, and they work well together. She is gorgeous and effortlessly sexy; he has a profile that we might find on an Assyrian coin.
The show is sexy without ever being vulgar. Ms. Toth could seduce an iceberg, but even as a prostitute she never falls into cheap cliche. Indeed, she has her best moment as a young hooker almost too shy too ask for her pay.
There’s a marvelous moment when Mr. Hunter, after his new mistress has left, says “I’m fucking a married woman!” It reminded me of Emma Bovary’s self-congratulatory line, “I have a lover!”
As is so often the case, the play’s best moment occurs when we know more than the characters. When the politician admits that he’s cheating on his wife, the model says “I’m sure she cheats on you”. He rejects the remark, but we know better.
The cast is not without faults. Ms.Toth overdoes the breathless mumbling so that we lose some of the lines and Mr. Hunter falls into cliche at moments (how does an actor portray a character named simply “The Aristocrat” in the 21st century?). But they eschew affectation or heavy-handed characterization. They create privacy - no, intimacy - only a few feet from the audience, with a marvelous moment-to-moment life. Mr. Hunter’s direction is sharp and dignified (Ms. Toth bares her breasts only briefly). He presents some scenes in semi-darkness, and Mr. Hare’s dialogue is handled subtly.
Congratulations to The Bridge Production Group - not least for putting up with the paintings that Whitebox has hanging on the walls. The sexy movie footage from old movies that Bridge projects before the show helps a lot.