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.