La Ronde | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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LA RONDE, Trap Door Theatre. One hundred years ago Viennese playwright Arthur Schnitzler circulated a copy of his new play, La Ronde, to 200 of his friends. Stamped across the cover were the words "Not for sale"; the author considered his ten interconnected vignettes about melancholic sexual couplings unfit for public consumption. When the play finally premiered 20 years later, Schnitzler faced not only an opening-night riot but a lengthy court trial for obscenity.

Today Schnitzler's well-behaved bourgeois trysts seem less scandalous, which may explain director Beata Pilch's decision to sex up her production. She not only provides copious amounts of coitus but throws in bondage, cross-dressing, sadomasochism, and fisting. Her raunchy revision may obliterate Schnitzler's elegant reserve, robbing the play of much of its poetry, but it does force La Ronde into a wholly contemporary sexual minefield, blowing any lingering dust off this classic.

Pilch's cast are not always up to her demands. Too often they push the sexual excess to cartoonish extremes, in effect ridiculing rather than embracing the lonely desperation at the play's core. Only Alex Present as a naive call boy and Courtney Shaughnessey as a drunken, fading starlet keep human hearts beating amid the self-indulgence. When these two are not onstage, the play's psychological insights tend to get lost in snickers and leers.

--Justin Hayford

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