Review: The Amorous Adventures of Anatol (Tarragon Theatre)

The Amorous Adventures of Anatol not very amorous, at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre

La Ronde, one of Arthur Schnitzler‘s most well-known (and frequently adapted plays) is a clever, dirty, thoughtful play – so clever it has been the basis of more than a dozen films, so dirty it occasioned an obscenity trial and was first performed twenty-three years after it was written, and so thoughtful that it remains relevant to modern discussions about sex, love, class, and desire. I was terribly enthusiastic for The Amorous Adventures of Anatol, largely because I have long cherished La Ronde.

I regret to say that I was disappointed.

I’m not clear that this was anyone’s fault, really. I unfortunately just found all of the characters fairly un-likable, and I wasn’t ever able to warm up to them as they preened and schemed, though the banter was light and witty. Intellectually I was able to see and understand that a certain amount of the women’s erotic interest in Anatol was about his money. With a playwright’s eye I could see Schnitzler (or maybe Morris Panych, who adapted the play) hoping that in the repetition would come a revelation – aha! I would think, as I considered my own sexual morals and values. He is stuck because he’s not authentic or faithful or emotionally available! It just never actually happened for me.

The set, by Ken MacDonald – Panych’s partner and as marvelous a use of nepotism as ever there was – really was the star of the show for me. Designed in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, at the opening it appears to be a giant apothecary cabinet with an arch between two eight by eight segments. As the show progresses, it reveals itself as far cleverer than that (and oh how I wished the same for Anatol). There are single drawers; long fold downs that become shop windows; self-contained bars; a fireplace and ultimately the door to a hidden bedroom. It was the only thing on stage that I loved wholeheartedly.

Anatol, played by Mike Shara, is an unrepenting cad, and a boor to boot, whom we watch woo seven women in quick succession. While he professes to be a great lover of women, he displays very little actual interest in any of them. Mimi inspires interest, but only as she dumps him for a fellow dancer she has fallen in love with. As she dumps him, it’s not Anatol she regrets the loss of with the line “Goodbye oysters, goodbye lovely, lovely wine.” It’s not Anatol she regrets losing, but the dinners his money buys.

The last scene happens on the morning of Anatol’s wedding – after the party the night before Anatol goes out, and finds a woman to bring back to his bachelor bed. In the morning she is both irate and weeping when she discovers he’s getting married that afternoon; it is Anatol’s unseen bride for whom we feel the most sympathy.

Nicole Underhay plays all the women, which unfortunately seems to suggest that all women are fundamentally the same. She does an admirable job of distinguishing them one from the other – a real challenge in a piece like this – but eventually the subtext was brutally clear. All points to Underhay for distracting me from that sad fact with her talent, though, at least for a while.

The play could only be The Amorous Adventures of Anatol if Anatol had been responsible for naming it. If his best friend Max (although why Max is Anatol’s best friend is a mystery, Anatol’s behaviour reflects little that would inspire such stalwart friendship) was naming the show it would be The Insufferable Antics of Anatol, if any of Anatol’s seven partners were naming it it might be Somebody That I Used To Know.

I was really ready to like this, but ultimately I just didn’t. If there’s a takeaway here, I’m afraid it’s that boring lovers don’t last long, but good cabinetry work is a marvel to behold.

Details

  • The Amorous Adventures of Anatol is playing at Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgeman Ave) until February 10th.
  • Shows run Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm.
  • Tickets range from $27-$53 (including discounts for students, seniors and groups).
  • $13 Rush Tickets available at the door for Fridays (on sale at 6pm) & Sundays (on sale at 1pm), Pay What You Can is Saturday, 2 Feb matinee show.
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416.531.1827.

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