Sex, not true love, is what makes the world go round in Arthur Schnitzler's satire on love-making in 19th century Vienna. His ten "dialogues" on a common theme have been given probably as many varying interpretations as productions--from the ironic bitterness of the New York Circle Theater's presentation last year to the delicate waltz-like charm of the movie version. Theatergoers expecting one or the other will be either shocked or delightfully surprised, according to their appetites, at the less complicated rollicking sybaritics of the Actors Company production.
Whether or not Schnitzler had in mind any moral statement about the futility of finding enduring values in sex alone is a question of little concern to director John Heffernan. The senior member of the company at twenty-five, Mr. Heffernan puts an appropriately youthful zest into the whole production. He finds little irony in the lines and focuses the humor on desire, social inhibitions, frustration, and zany hypocrisy. A sociology of sex emerges which stresses the primacy of simple desire over attempts to cloak it in social idealization. For any who don't already know the plot, girl meets boy meets girl meets boy and so on through ten scenes and ten partner changes (in one complete Viennese waltz around the dance floor of love.) Prostitute meets soldier who meets parlor maid who meets young gentleman who meets young wife who wants husband (her own) who meets "little miss" who meets poet who meets an actress who meets a count who gets back to the prostitute.
The stage blackout in each scene is inevitable, but the preliminaries vary in length and tone in accordance with the social position and temperament of the protagonists. The content however, is remarkably the same.
Parlor Maid: "Do you like me?"
Soldier: "I thought you might have noticed."
Young Gentleman: "If I could only be sure you loved me."
Young Wife: "Do you want better proof than...?"
Little Miss: "What are you so inquisitive for?"
Husband: "Because...I'm in love with you."
Husband: "Of course. Haven't you noticed?"
The moral undercurrent of the play, of course, is that no one does notice, and the affection between each set of partners lasts little longer than the propitious stage blackouts.
No one really gets hurt in the present production, however, except the central prop--a badly over-taxed bed which resoundingly gave way at the beginning of the last act Saturday night. The mishap seemed more natural than accidental.
Both the young wife and the actress are played by the wonderfully versatile Jane Cronin, who shifts from coquettish innocence to sophisticated directness. Edward Zang as the poet, is also outstanding in extracting the most out of probably the best lines in the play. Richard Galvin brings a well-trained talent to the part of the inhibited young gentleman and Roz Faber and Mary Weede give appropriate spirit and mock innocence to their roles.
The Charles Street Theater's stage is little larger than a wrestling ring, with the audience almost embarrassingly close to the action. Fortunately the stage is never called upon to accommodate more than two principals in each scene, except during scene changes, which are as breathless as the dramatic action and appropriately effected by scurrying chamber maids.
A slow final scene and perhaps an overly chilly handling of the husband's part are minor inconsistencies in what is otherwise a splended production. Although the Charles Street version of La Ronde is not recommended for the Victorian temperament, it provides an enjoyable evening of Spring theater. If sex is not always beautiful it can at least be fun.