THE BASICS: ART of WNY has opened its 2014-5 season with this 1993 musical reworking of Arthur Schnitzler’s LA RONDE. The book, music and lyrics are by Michael John LaChiusa, brother of the ART’s artistic director, Matthew LaChiusa. Jeffrey Coyle directs a cast of ten. The show plays weekends through October 4th at Art In The Box–the basement space at the Church of the Ascension on Linwood Ave. The running time is a little under ninety minutes. There is no intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This is a series of ten short, linked sexual encounters. The Man from Scene 1 goes on to Scene 2; the Woman from Scene 2 appears again in Scene 3, etc. When the Man in Scene 10 links up with the Woman in Scene 1, the human daisy chain is complete. A circle of loneliness, sadness, misguided desire.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: Most of what is/was good about LA RONDE (play and film) is missing from this semi-operatic version. Dialogue has been slashed in favor of recitative (Does anybody really like recitative??). The characters, observed in the moment, seem even less than caricatures; it’s hard to get much of a fix on any of them! LaChuisa, in an effort to achieve timelessness, I suppose, has set his brief encounters in a variety of locales, while playing hopscotch with the various decades of the 20th century. This may seem elegant on the page, but it is senseless and disorienting in practice, robbing the piece of much-needed unities. The songs, while not memorable, are cut from whole cloth, nonetheless, and do have an edgy integrity. There are lots of little repeated fragments, and some interesting rhythms. “We Kiss”, sung by Carolyn Ransom as the Nurse, has a rapturous quality, and made a good first impression on this reviewer. Hats off to the entire cast for taking on such an obviously difficult score!
The actors, mostly quite young, bring varying levels of skill. Happily, the two elder statesmen here, Thomas LaChiusa and Robert Ernie Insana, endow the production with the requisite world wise/weary qualities. For a show with a good deal of simulated sex, the present incarnation of HELLO AGAIN is surprisingly buttoned up. If you go expecting skin, you will be disappointed. Props to Bret Ruyen for his keyboard prowess. That said, the music needs to be dialed down a bit; conceivably important lyrics are being lost because of the intense amplification. The ART production, while bare bones, is certainly competent in all respects.
IN SUM: HELLO AGAIN is an interesting, but I believe unsuccessful attempt to rework a literary classic. Recommended for Michael John LaChiusa fans only. Those intrigued by the premise would be better off putting the Ophuls film in their Netflix queues!
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!