After watching La Ronde, McMaster Thespian Company’s latest - and highly sexual - production, you may not be surprised to find out that the play was only performed twice during Arthur Schnitzler’s, the playwrite’s, lifetime. Set in 1890s Vienna, the play contains ten scenes about the moments before and after sexual intercourse. Despite a strong performance from the cast, the “no means yes” mentality behind many of the male characters’ sexual advances would make even Robin Thicke question whether this script was due for a much needed update.
The story is simple: a dialogue between two characters soon finds them having sex that will only further complicate, and inevitably connect them to an interlocking chain of lovers revealed throughout the show.
While the show began on shaky ground, the cast soon proved their talents, making the romantic pasts of the characters all the more believable. All actors and actresses were enticing, compelling, expressive, and engaging. Annalee Flint in particular did a fantastic job of portraying “the actress,” reflecting both her talent and the experience gained from the Algonquin College Theatre Arts program.
Instead, many of the show’s flaws come from its source material. While it is clear that the play looked to be a commentary on morals surrounding sex, adultery and an examination of classism within a sexual context, it was hard to ignore that many of the encounters could be defined as rape.
Watching scene upon scene wherein female characters repeatedly verbally and physically rejected male sexual advances, only to suddenly comply at the last minute or irrationally fall in love with the man after sex, made La Ronde feel like a perverted dominance fantasy. This made it difficult to care about the moral complexities of having multiple partners, or cheating, when a far more controversial – though likely unintentional – theme of the play was ignored.
The result is a play that for all its talent and style leaves the audience both frustrated with the decision to not acknowledge the complexities behind the men’s advances, and uncomfortable instead of intrigued by the affairs and scandals.
Senior ANDY Editor
Andrea Pohlmann has a lot on her plate this term. This first-time director is in charge of two shows premiering in early 2012 – The Importance of Being Earnest and Into the Woods – two drastically different but equally fantastic plays that have her more excited than nervous about the responsibility of getting these productions on their feet.
The Importance of Being Earnest is the first play of the New Year in the world of McMaster theatre. Pohlmann is directing for the McMaster Thespian Company, a well-respected MSU club that is known for its revivals of classical Elizabethan and Victorian works. Now in its ninth season, McMaster Thespian Company’s decision to stage Oscar Wilde’s iconic work was something Pohlmann was very excited to hear about.
The Importance of Being Earnest follows Mr. John Worthing, a Victorian gentleman with a secret – he leads a double life under the alias of Ernest Worthing. Worthing’s dual identity gets complicated when his nosy best friend Algernon Moncrieff discovers his secret and tries to use it to his advantage to woo Worthing’s charming ward Cecily.
Meanwhile Worthing, desperately in love with aristocratic Gwendolen, must struggle to keep up with his double life in order to win the hand of the woman he loves. The ensuing chaos is a witty satire of repressed Victorian society and a hilarious romp through the eternal issues of male/female courtship. As Pohlmann says, “there are family issues and there are romantic issues, but it’s also just so funny.”
Pohlmann is mostly sticking to conventions with TIOBE, which aligns with her self-identified classicist style, but admits she is taking some directorial risks. Accents will be used, as well as some gags that are being kept hush-hush, but that Pohlmann promises will bring big laughs. The element of scandal in the play is also something she’s interested in emphasizing, starting with promotional posters that feature her cast in the nude. “Yes, we’ve seen The Importance of Being Earnest, but we haven’t seen The Importance of Being Earnest like this,” she explained.
While the actual production will see the actors fully clothed, this edgy marketing brings a modern twist to an old classic steeped in Victorian-era sexual tension and social scandal – themes Pohlmann points out to be incredibly timeless: “Everyone wants to watch people fall in love.”
In regards to casting, “I got really, really lucky,” Pohlmann enthused. Her production showcases known names in the McMaster theatre scene, including Sarah Granger, Grant Winestock, Harrison Cruikshank and featuring Jimmy Skembaris in traditional drag as Lady Bracknell. “I’ve been excited about interacting with the cast and helping them grow as actors as well as helping them grow as characters,” she said, “and now I’m most excited about watching it come to life.”
“[When you] come see the show what you’re going to see is as if I had taken my heart out of my chest and put it on stage and let it beat for you.” Passionate words from a passionate director.
The Importance of Being Earnest plays January 19th, 20th, 21st at the Robinson Memorial Theatre (CNH 103, McMaster), and January 26th, 27th, 28th at the Baltimore House (43 King William St., Hamilton).