Sex. Love. Hate. Three of Sigmund Freud’s favourite subjects explored in one of the most scandalous plays of the 19th century, Arthur Schnitzler’s incendiary La Ronde. While Freud himself applauded Schnitzler’s understanding of how passion and loathing so frequently intersect, authorities in the playwright’s home country of Austria were not so thrilled. They banned his play and charged everyone involved in its production with immorality. Ultimately, all were acquitted, but La Ronde languished until 1920 when it was revived to tepid response on a Berlin stage.
Fast forward to 2013, where a modern adaptation of the play is causing waves anew for Soulpepper at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. But this time, it’s a cascade of well-deserved attendance and adulation for what is a remarkable piece of theatre.
Drawing on different classes of Canadian society, Jason Sherman’s adaptation offers succinctly drawn, powerful characters whose lives intertwine throughout a story of prostitution, rape, sexual frustration and betrayal. Heady themes, but Sherman and director Alan Dilworth have managed to tackle these high-octane headline grabbers with a real flair for naturalistic dialogue and believable scenarios.
Particularly poignant are the moments shared by an infertile couple (played by Maev Beaty and Mike Ross), as they reach outside their relationship for help conceiving a child, and an awkward college student (Adrian Morningstar), as he tries to divest himself of his virginity with a refugee maid (an amazing Miranda Edwards) who has survived a hideous rape in her home country. It’s unapologetically dark and frequently bleak, but the flashes of laugh-out-loud humour break up the mood nicely, as does the inventive use of surtitles to bring things like texting and social media into the script in a natural manner.
There are some tricky moments. A scene involving a sex therapist instructing a man how to please his frustrated girlfriend could easily have been weird and just plain icky, but some clever lighting and note-perfect performances by Brandon McGibbon, Brenda Robbins and Grace Lynn Kung make it a hilarious highlight that still manages to pack an emotional punch.
Beaty, Edwards and Leah Doz are real standouts here, delicately moving between angst, rage and humour, while Morningstar and Ross are so authentic in their roles it’s easy to forget they’re actors reading someone else’s words. The copious nudity and sex don’t hurt in keeping one’s eyes riveted to the stage, but that’s a plus rather than a consolation.
And that’s the real strength of La Ronde. Yes, it’s an unlikely confluence of mayhem and tragedy in a group of inter-related individuals’ lives, but it’s written, directed and performed in such a way that it feels wholly believable and entirely relatable. Highly recommended.
La Ronde continues until Sat, May 4
Young Centre for the Performing Arts
50 Tank House Lane