FRAULEIN ELSE, Court Theatre. Arthur Schnitzler's 1924 stream-of-consciousness novella about a neurasthenic 19-year-old Viennese girl has been adapted with great verve and perception by Francesca Faridany, who also originated the title role at Berkeley Repertory Theatre last spring. Court's production, under the direction of Lucy Smith Conroy, offers some beautiful stage pictures. But Whitney Sneed hasn't found the balance between Else's hysteria and her self-possession. Though Sneed hits the humor in Else's compulsively self-referential monologues, her mannerisms and inflections remain those of contemporary America rather than fin de siecle Europe, which undercuts the believability of her final breakdown.
The source of that breakdown is creepy even for our permissive times: Else's parents, in financial arrears because of the father's gambling, send letters urging her to flirt with--that is, seduce--an older family friend who's vacationing at the same Italian spa. He agrees to cover papa's debts provided he can see her virgin body naked for a quarter of an hour. The latter part of the script suggests the nightmarish disorientation of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, also about a virgin on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But instead of a tormented girl driven to a tragic end, Sneed's Else seems more like Bridget Jones at the garden party minus her Playboy bunny outfit.