LA RONDE by Arthur Schnitzler, adapted by Jason Sherman, directed by Alan Dilworth, with Maev Beaty, Leah Doz, Stuart Hughes and Brandon McGibbon. Presented by Soulpepper at the Young Centre (50 Tank House). Now in previews, opens April 4 and runs in rep with True West to May 4. $32-$68. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca.
Soulpepper's spicing things up this spring with what the company promises will be a shockingly explicit production of Arthur Schnitzler's famously steamy cycle of sexual encounters. Originally written in Austria in 1898, La Ronde's focus on sex - each scene features a different tryst - polarized audiences, resulting in censorship but also in a long string of productions, including one by Soulpepper back in 2001.
This time, the company has commissioned a brand new adaptation by playwright Jason Sherman (who was also behind the more traditional 2001 version) that updates the action, placing it in present-day Toronto, and dials up the amount of sex we see onstage.
"It's an aggressive adaptation," says director Alan Dilworth. "Jason has enmeshed his vision with Schnitzler's so the piece speaks to issues in our time, just as Schnitzler's did in his.
"You'll see lots of nudity and the staging of sexual acts, but for me, La Ronde has always been an investigation of fundamental human loneliness, of our need for connection."
Dilworth argues that La Ronde merits a contemporary update because its themes of sex and isolation have never been more pertinent.
"In 2013, we supposedly have so many new ways to connect with other people, yet we fail to do so now more than ever. The tools we believe will facilitate intimacy are not necessarily the right ones, because those tools are sculpted by other interests. We're actually getting further and further away from authentic connections and expressions, and this is the struggle at the heart of La Ronde."
Without revealing too much, Dilworth also hints that Sherman's update will alter more than just the show's setting and characters. It will also shake up the traditional structure, which used to follow one half of each two-person hetero rendezvous into his or her next encounter.
"Jason has been playing with the episodic nature of these encounters, the AB, then BC, then CD formula," says Dilworth, whose Soulpepper debut comes after helming award-winning productions of If We Were Birds and Crash. "His adaptation alters both what we carry forward between scenes in terms of the storyline and the two-two-two structure, in very interesting ways."
For help with staging the prolonged and graphic sex scenes, which include kinks and fetishes, Dilworth has turned to Soulpepper's combat coach for inspiration.
"I've been working with our fight director, Simon Fon," he says. "As we were working on some fight moments, I realized that I should have him look at some of the sexual encounters, too, because his detail work in terms of storytelling is so clear."
But Dilworth also says he's careful to avoid any gratuitous sex, and is committed to providing a safe rehearsal environment for the cast as they prepare to take these physical and emotional risks onstage. It also helps that Dilworth's partner, Maev Beaty, is a member of the company.
"For the cast, knowing that the director's wife is going to be taking the same risks as them was proof that I would take great care with the sexual aspects."
As for audiences, Dilworth hopes they're shocked but not alienated.
"I hope people see their community; I hope they see a piece of themselves onstage. I hope La Ronde is a reflecting pool."