Maev Beaty & Mike Ross Photo by Cylla von TiedemannLa Ronde
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Reviewed by James Karas
Please hold your semen. We will get to the headline shortly.This is a review of La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler as adapted for Soulpepper by Jason Sherman.
“Do you know what a vulva is?”
“Sure. My father used to drive one.”
That is the level of humour provided by Sherman and if you like that sort of thing, there are quite a few such hysterical, sidesplitting lines in the play. So much for the humour.
And now for the SEX. Soulpepper gives some warning of the content of the adaptation. The season brochure states “sexual Content” and the Playbill warns that “This performance of La Ronde contains explicit sexual content, nudity …” etc. That is a gross understatement.
Just wait. We will get to Brenda’s “c” lesson shortly.
Schnitzler’s play, subtitled Ten Dialogues has ten characters and they have interconnected sexual encounters. He starts with a Whore and a Solider. Then the Soldier has an encounter with the Parlour Maid, the Parlour Maid with the Young Gentleman and so on in a kind of merry-go-round. Hence the title of the play.
Sherman is somewhat faithful to the original structure and maintains the number of characters. From then on, Schnitzler takes a hike.
The plot is moved to present day Toronto and we go from cheap hotels, to a Rosedale Mansion, to a Biology Lab at a university, an office etc. We also go to a suburban house for Brenda Robins’ lesson because the educational session must be done by candlelight and we need a power failure for that. That happens more readily out in the country.
Sex begins within a minute of the lights going up. All ten characters walk on stage, Sonja (Leah Doz), a beautiful woman, undresses completely and is joined on a cot by Charlie (Stuart Hughes) and the copulation begins. The other characters finish their speeches and Sonja and Charlie finished what they were doing and the story begins to unfold.
The next scene is in a Rosedale Mansion where Charlie who is a soldier begs forgiveness from Hannibelle (Miranda Edwards), a black maid, for not bringing the money. He dropped it in the hotel room where he copulated with Sonja, she founded it and stuffed it up her vagina.
The encounter between Charlie and Hannibelle is a bit bizarre. We learn that she is from the Congo and Charlie loves her. As the two talk, menacing solders in blue berets lurk by. They grab Hannibelle and rape her. I suppose that is a dream sequence or a traumatic experience recalled by Hannibelle because the soldiers appear again and the only one that notices them is Hannibelle. We realize that Hannibelle was brutally raped by UN peacekeepers.
The rape was filmed and uploaded on YouTube because in the next scene we will see Nicholas (Adrian Morningstar) a young student, masturbating in front of his laptop and subsequently attempting to seduce the maid. I am not sure if that is another dream sequence but it is a grotesque scene. He is getting text messages throughout and we will soon find out why.
He goes to Isobel (Maev Beaty), a professor of biology, who is waiting for his semen so she can inseminate herself. Nicholas has moral qualms about it because he was watching a rape scene when he produced the precious liquid. The professor produces fresh semen manually (or was it orally) from him and goes home to her sterile husband Teddy (Mike Ross).
Teddy leaves Isobel and hooks up with Zoe (Grace Lynn Kung) and they are joined by Lucas (Brandon McGibbon). Lucas wins Zoe but things are not working out between the two so they go for sex therapy to Eve played by Brenda Robins.
Eve diagnoses the couple’s problem as sexual and she knows a lot about sex. She decides to provide Lucas with hands–on instructions on how to please a woman. She gives a detailed, blow by blow lesson in cunnilingus to him while he is on his knees, head between Eve’s legs, following precise instructions. Thank God for the power failure. The whole procedure is done by candlelight and Robins, McGibbon and the audience are spared most of the visual fright of the lesson and rely on a narrative description.
Eve tries to franchise her know-how to Robert (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and ends up giving him a lesson in sadomasochistic sex. Robert’s fate is the climax (yes, I have to use that word) of the play where ejaculation, strangulation and redemption meet.
Some of the actors are spared from appearing completely nude and coming almost in direct contact with the genitals of their momentary partner. Most of them are not given such indulgence although all the men are able to ejaculate with lightning speed. Trying to see how Director Alan Dilworth avoided direct genital contact between the actors provided some of the interest in the play.
One could say that after all the humping, pumping, heavy breathing and ejaculating, Sherman has tried to mount a critique or perhaps a commentary on current sexual mores. The rape victim of peacekeepers, the oriental girl thrown on the street, the Russian girl brought to Canada on false pretenses of a job and then thrown into prostitution, the abuse of power, the sick side of sex are all subjects for great drama. None of that came out because the play has no people in it.
The actors, to their credit, did yeoman work, in parts that are more embarrassing than challenging.
I recall William Faulkner’s eloquent Nobel Prize Speech. He said that young writers must teach themselves “the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” The writer who does not do that, he concluded, “writes not of love but of lust …not of the heart but of the glands.”
Sherman in his adaptation does not write of love, he does not even write of lust, or even of good glandular sex. He writes merely of mechanical copulation that is empty and meaningless.
La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler, adapted by Jason Sherman opened on April 4 and will continue until May 4, 2013 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 3C4. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666.