La Ronde Theatre Review - A Duet of Love and Sex in Ten Dialogues

"La Ronde" at Zephyr Theatre on Melrose

Big Signature Productions
brings to Los Angeles an unprecedented adaptation of the famously controversial Arthur Schnitzler play, La Ronde.  The play, originally written under the title Reigen, was one of the first works to award Schnitzler the branding of pornographer.  While the work seems absurdly “g-rated” under the backdrop of present day, the play nonetheless resonates themes of love and sex that remain as unchanged as they were in the late 1800s when it was originally conceived.   

La Ronde is a conceptual piece of sorts that explores sex and love through the forum of ten “dialogues”.  The idea is simple, but effective: two characters have a scene in which they ultimately indulge in sex, the scene ends and the following scene includes one of the two with a new lover.  These two ultimately indulge in sex and the former leaves and the later continues to another partner.  The effect, a full circle.   Hence, La Ronde .  Again, a simple concept, but an extraordinarily appropriate analysis of love and the insatiable primal desires that fuel its existence.  

Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnett in "La Ronde"

To those theatre lovers anxious for a play in familiar format, step aside and move on.  La Ronde prods the realms of each of the ten characters lives and moves on without resolution, without finality.  There is no traditional single arc story, the dialogue isn’t always direct, and the questions are frequently for the viewer to answer.

Nevertheless, the production is a fascinating theatrical experience.  Larry Biederman has so effectively created a detailed and widely dimensional experience that draws on a plethora of creativities to indulge the mind.  The sets are absurdly simple, if not borderline nonexistent.  All locations are a result of four chairs, a stretched white fabric background and two shelving units.  The space at the Zephyr is small but wonderfully utilized.  The dialogues, with only a few excepted, seem to flow seamlessly into one another, an effect that  services the fluidity of “the round”. In all, the play remains as much an iconoclast to traditional concepts of love and sex as I imagine its initial conception intended.  

The unexpected highlight of the production seems to be the sound design.  John Zalewski paints a surprisingly detailed canvas of ambient sounds and cues that further captivates the mind of the viewers.  Occasionally, sound cues pop up in synchronization with the action to subtly prove a point and a few scenes even take action with recorded dialogue, giving a broader range of voices to the particulars of each scene.  

Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnett in "La Ronde"

                                                                Actors Alyson Weaver and Ken Barnett effectively play the full set of ten characters, morphing continuously from one to the other.  They share a strong chemistry that deepens with the progression of the night and it is enjoyable to watch them find their footing together and grow with each moment.  The differentiation between characters, however, left room for want.  It would have been nice to see more specific distinctions between each of the ten characters.  Using only two actors so wonderfully illustrates the basic idea that we are all the same in our unrealized search for a satisfying love.  It seems, however, so vitally important that we do notice decided differences between each character so that unity remains conceptual and not actual.  

The overall  design of this piece was a successful ornamentation to Biederman’s direction.  The sets were a wonderful choice- as ambiguous as the scenes they house.  There was, however, a bit of opportunity lost in costuming.  Save a wonderfully giant princess dress in scene seven (undeniably the apex scene of the evening), the costumes seemed gray in their service to the production.  They were a bit non-suggestive to any period, style or invention and seemed only to honor the concept of black and white. 

A trip to the Zephyr is almost worth the time just to read Larry Biederman’s directors notes.  Here he analyses the play, playwright Arthur Schnitzler and the general idealogy of love, and the often unnecessary emptiness of the human experience.  The notes serve as one of many proofs that his approach to this production was impressively specific and fully understood.  

La Ronde opened January 10, 2009 and will run through February 1, 2009 @:

Zephyr Theatre
7456 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046

Thursday through Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday at 3pm

For reservations:
call: 323-960-7792

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