Arthur Schnitzler's ingenious merry-go-round is twirling again, and quite gayly. In the unlikely case that you haven't heard, the play is about sex: a prostitute sleeps with a soldier, who sleeps with a parlor maid, who sleeps with a young gentleman, who ...and, after ten characters, back to the prostitute. Each affair makes a seperate seduction scene, usually broken in the middle by a delicately significant blackout.
The thread that connects the ten playlets is both clever and amusing, but although the individual scenes are usually witty, they are nearly inherently dangerously repetitive. Schnitzler played with a good idea a bit too long. Yet despite the fact that even seduction is not infallibly theatrical, there is ample comedy. The wit and sparkle within Schnitzler's idea comes from the delicate linguistic flirting with sex, from the inevitable dimension of anticipation in each scene, from individual characterizations, and from the differences between seductions.
Robert Jordan, the director, usually sees and plays with these differences delightfully if a bit gently. He coordinates an airy style of acting with a fine comic sense and, even if there are no huge problems involved, moves his two characters skillfully in and out of (and onto) John Ratte's light and light-hearted set.
The actors vary greatly in effectiveness, and shall be treated in order not of importance but of seduction. Charlotte Clark, the prostitute, adds little but a nicely hoarse voice to the dull opening, and is not helped much by Kurt Blankmeyer, The Soldier. Martha Cohen, The Maid, is prettily shy with the soldier, and shows a coy flair in her next scene, opposite Barry Bartle as a Young Gentleman who, after sleeping with her, can only say, nervously, "That'll be all. Thank you."
The next scene, in a cosy flat rented for the occasion by the young man, is excellent. Bartle bumbles around in distraught anticipation with most persuasive touches of confusion, and Edith Iselin, as the Young Wife he has difficulty in seducing, treats a wifely, youthful, yet motherly role with great finesse and amusement. She radiates just as brightly in her next scene, at home with her pompously native husband, Richard Smithies. He often appears pleasantly outrageous, but he can also wallow in ugly pomp. He seems a bit closer to sixty years old than to forty. His next scene, with The Little Miss, is somewhat slow and less smooth--shoulder-kneading can be awkward--but Gail Jones is exactly as virtuous a coquette as she should be. She succeeds again opposite John van Itallie, as The Poet, in a particularly fresh scene. Her indignantly stating "I'm not stupid," delays things a bit; he, delighted, waves back "Of course you are.."
The Poet's next rendez-vous is a gem. With a graceful, superbly theatrical manner, Lee Jeffries, perfectly cast as The Actress, goes to bed with the poet. "That's better than acting in damn silly plays," she breathes soon after their blackout. Still brilliant in her next scene, she is unfortunately confronted with a gawking performance by John Wolfson, who seems uneasy in his role as a slightly dimwitted, uneasy Count. The final scene, The Count and the Prostitute, is a step downward from the style of Miss Jeffries.
It is too bad that the play starts and ends on a mediocre note, for it is full of outstanding comedy in the middle. Moreover not even Edward Stuart's effective this-is-the-essence-of-Vienna music can quite tie the ten playlets together across the rather long scene changes. But there is so much brightness in each of the seven central playlets that the whole production creates a frivolous, very often delightful atmosphere.