nytheatre.com review by Montserrat Mendez
August 16, 2009
Stunning! That is the word I whispered to myself the minute the lights came up on Big Signature's production of La Ronde playing at this year's New York International Fringe Festival. My date, a FringeNYC virgin, then immediately turned to me and said "Are all Fringe productions this good?" And I responded with a grinning "No!" I'm not joking when I say that director Larry Biederman has outdone himself, in a passionate, thundering, and gasp-inducing production of the play.
The novelty of Schnitzler's play, at least at the time it was written, was the way it interlocked ten characters, starting with "The Prostitute" and "The Soldier" and weaving them into a domino effect of seduction by taking a character from the previous scene and following them onto their next conquest. The play then circles back to "The Prostitute" and therefore connects every character to each other through their often sordid sexual histories. It scandalously illuminated the way that syphilis was spread at the turn of the 20th century. And now at the turn of the 21st century, for the circle has just begun to turn, it passionately illuminates our need for human connection in the most moving way. We fear being alone, and so we make very stupid, frail, and ultimately human decisions that break us.
A full dictionary of theatrical convention is used to illuminate the work: neon wires that tells us which characters we are watching, delicate sound cues let us know that the invisible cup has landed on its saucer, the parachute screen used as a projection screen for "The Actress" and "Count" scene, which makes total sense. And these are just three small moments—there are ten scenes and each scene is staged using innovative and exhilarating visual language. Again, I was impressed by what is being achieved in lighting at FringeNYC '09, with John Eckert's terrific design, but this production is really dependent on its sound and John Zalewski's design is as good as anything I've seen this year.
The discipline of the production never falls off track and you have to give credit to Allyson Weaver (the woman) and Ken Barnett (the man) for pulling off every single character in the play. Yes! That's right! All ten characters in the play are played by two of the most brilliant actors around. These are dynamic, potent, nonstop, give them Tony nominations, I don't care if they don't qualify performances. Weaver gives depth to all the women. And her "Wife" digs deep into the longing of living in a conventional marriage when her soul is yearning for adventure and pleasure. While Barnett is just joy-inducing as he attacks every role, and his "Young Gentleman" and "Poet" are absolute revelations. But when he slows down, as the "Husband", and uses that lower register of his voice, there is really nothing you could deny him.
I wanted to close my review using the words "tour de force" but I rather close it by saying: You have three chances left to see La Ronde, I suggest you make room in your FringeNYC schedule to check it out.