at Ark Theatre Company
Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 play La Ronde was an ironic and sophisticated portrait of sexual mores in turn-of-that-century Vienna. Though the script's erotic frankness prevented its production for 20 years or so, it has since become the author's most popular and oft-produced play, filmed several times, and endlessly adapted and updated. This latest incarnation, by Paul Wagar, resets it in contemporary Hollywood and treats the original so freely that it's hardly an adaptation at all.
The play's 10 scenes involve nine characters, played by five actors, in a sort of daisy chain of sexual encounters. A rather hapless Personal Assistant (Peter Ross Stephens) is seduced and summarily dumped by an Actor (Julian Colletta) on his current movie. But the Actor gets his comeuppance when he finds he must sleep with a predatory Casting Director (Dee Amerio Sudik) to dispel rumors about his homosexuality. The Casting Director reveals another aspect of her nature when she emerges as a black-vinyl-clad dominatrix who must "punish" a naughty visiting British Director (Stephens). A Producer (Hal Perry) pressures his unfaithful Wife (a svelte Renae Geerlings) into a ménage à trois with a randy Costumer (Sudik). A star Actress (Geerlings) resorts to sexual persuasion of Screenwriter and Producer when her director threatens to reduce her role in favor of his new girlfriend, and a Studio Head (Perry) uses his powers to seduce and subjugate his underlings.
Schnitzler's play was undeniably about sex. Wagar's is about nothing but sex, and the characters are largely sexual stereotypes. The many short scenes are reduced to obvious exercises in foreplay, and the script begins to suggest a soft-core porn flick in which scenes are cut off just when the real action begins. But it is cleverly written, funny, and short. Andrew Crusse directs with finesse and keeps the many blackouts brief and minimally intrusive, while the actors (particularly Stephens and Sudik) get ample opportunities to demonstrate their versatility. Sudik plays the Casting Director dominatrix with gusto, and Stephens manages to inject a touch of humanity into puppetlike characters. It's a lightweight but painlessly amusing outing.
Presented by and at the Ark Theatre, 1647 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Aug. 28-Oct. 4. (323) 969-1707. www.arktheatre.org.
Reviewed by Neal Weaver