Review: La Ronde (Soulpepper Theatre Company)

Soulpepper, La Ronde

Soulpepper Theatre Company breathes bold and engaging life into their production of La Ronde in Toronto

My experience at this evening’s opening of La Ronde by Soulpepper at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts Theatre in Toronto`s Distillery Historic District definitely challenged any preconceived notions I had of Soulpepper’s usual mainstream productions. It is raw, provocative, shocking, stimulating and maybe at times, even jaw- dropping. Although there is no lack of sexual exposure in today’s world, seeing such content live, up- close and personal, is still surprising, which is what I’m sure was intended.

Originally written in German by Arthur Schnitzler in 1897, La Ronde , exploring sexual morality and the intimate relationships between people, made it highly progressive and controversial for its time. La Ronde, referring to “round dance” follows the interconnected lives of ten lovers: the Whore, the Soldier, the Parlor Maid, the Young Gentleman, the Young Wife, the Husband, the Little Miss, the Poet, the Actress and the Count. However, where Schnitzler`s piece takes place in the late 1800s in Vienna, Austria, with characters distinct to that era, playwright Jason Sherman’s adaptation examines the lives of ten people in present day Toronto.

As the play begins, all characters, each of a different social class, make a brief appearance on stage creating a rather ominous feeling. Moments later, we are introduced to the first characters known as The Whore and The Solider. The Whore, played by Leah Doz and The Solider played by Stuart Hughes engage in a brief sexual encounter. Leah Doz is strong in her role as the vulnerable and fragile young European woman innocently lured to Canada in hopes of a better life only to be forced into the sex trade. Hughes is equally strong and believable in his role as The Soldier. This opening scene set the tone for what the evening would bring.

Although the character’s lives do play on stereotypes and clichés, Sherman`s adaptation creates modern characters that are believable. From a dingy apartment, we move into a Rosedale Mansion, where we meet The Young Gentlemen played by Adrian Morningstar. Charming and sly, he puts a pass on the sweet and defenseless Parlour Maid who has been the traumatic victim of a gang rape back home in the Congo. Miranda Edwards delivers a convincing and moving performance in both her scenes.

We then move into a biology lab, which had many moments of comedy, followed by a home in the Annex of Toronto. Here we meet The Young Wife, also a biology professor, unable to conceive. The Young Wife, played my Maev Beaty and The Husband, played by Mike Ross, reveal their own sexual insecurities, insights and views on love and sexuality. I thought this scene was one of the strongest scenes in the play.

The nightclub scene introduced us to The Little Miss, played by Grace Lynn Kung. However, in this adaptation she plays an aspiring fashion designer with a sad and troubled past looking for love in all the wrong ways. She begins an impromptu relationship with The Poet, in this case, an aspiring filmmaker played by Brandon McGibbon who then attempt couples therapy in hopes of breaking some sexual inhibitions. The Actress, turned sex therapist in this play, played by Brenda Robins, creates an outrageously funny and unexpected scene with McGibbon`s as the sexually illiterate client.

Director Alan Dilworth creates a seamless production with a highly skilled, fearless and talented group of actors. Lorenzo Savoini compliments this script with his multi-functional set design that brings great depth to this piece both physically and metaphorically. Slightly angled with deep perspective, the set begins to come apart at its hinges just as the character`s lives, particularly in the torturous scene in the seedy motel room with The Count, adapted in this version as an Investment banker, played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee.

There is no holding back in this production. From full nudity frontals, to sex, cunnilingus, fellatio and more, La Ronde, produced by the Soulpepper Theatre Company, although different than the original, is undoubtedly highly engaging from start to finish. The actors are outstanding in each of their demanding roles. This play is for the introspective and bold. It garnered a standing ovation on its opening night and I hope the streak continues.

Details

La Ronde is playing at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts ( 50 Tank House Lane) till May 4, 2013
– Performances run March 26th –May 4th at 7:30pm with matinees at 1:30pm on Saturday, April 24th, and April 27th 
– Tickets range from $32 to $68
– Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666.

Photograph of Maev Beaty and Mike Ross provided by Soulpepper