Arthur Schnitzler injected his keen and frank observations about sexual attraction and love into Anatol, and that's one reason the work remains relevant more than a century later. Carl Mueller's fresh translation is a two-and-a-half-hour megadose of relationship angst as experienced by a narcissistic, overly jealous romantic who can't fall in love without preparing for — or causing — heartache. It's a tricky tale to tell well, and thanks to several wonderful performances, in particular an unforgettable lead turn by Matt Letscher, this Anatol will likely be recalled fondly for seasons to come. Director Dan Bonnell hits the proper tone for every scene, each able to stand on its own as a vignette but also linked subtly to the others to form one impressive whole.
Set in 1900 Vienna, Anatol follows its title character through seven romances, each fraught with self-imposed problems that Anatol frequently discusses with his best friend, Max (Alex Enberg). Most of the scenes are played for laughs, such as "Farewell Supper," in which Anatol intends to break up with Annie (Ginna Carter) and then becomes enraged when she dumps him first. Two scenes are more serious in nature and show Anatol's greater depth, in particular his meeting with a previous love, Gabrielle (Ursula Brooks), while he's Christmas shopping for a gift for another woman.
Letscher is a marvel as Anatol, making the character sophisticated and intelligent while also childish and naive. The actor's physical comedy and crisp delivery is quite funny, and his tears elicit sympathy. Enberg's Max serves as an ideal companion. Portrayed with genuine warmth, Max never turns into a condescending character, though Enberg's occasional intentional glances toward the audience make it clear Max knows when Anatol is about to blow it again. The female side of the cast is strong, though the standout is Carter, whose drunken, joyous Annie — with pouting lips and bouncing arms — gets continually funnier as the scene progresses.
The pacing is snappy, and Bonnell makes up for longer-than-average set changes by placing a mostly nude woman in soft light standing inside a gold frame at the top of Laura Fine's attractive set, resembling a Gustav Klimt painting. Anatol may be set in 1900, but this production signals that the story is alive and well in the 21st century.
Presented by and at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Mar. 16-May 27. (310) 822-8392. www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.