Theo Ubique brings some new energy to Michael John LaChiusa’s 1994 chamber musical, but it still runs on the fumes of ancient gender essentialism
Theater review by Kris Vire
Is Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde the 19th century’s most adapted play? Despite all of the raw material left behind by the likes of Chekhov and Ibsen and Shaw, among so many others, Schnitzler’s daisy-chain of sexual encounters seems to have inspired an outsized number of riffs by 20th– and 21st-century playwrights, among them David Hare’s The Blue Room, Eric Bentley’s Round 2, Suzanne Bachner’s Circle, Jack Heifner’s Seduction, and Joe DiPietro’s Fucking Men.
And then there’s Michael John LaChiusa’s 1994 chamber musical Hello Again, which takes the basic premise of Schnitzler’s La Ronde—everyone you fuck is (or was, or will be) fucking someone else—and freezes it outside of time. LaChiusa spreads his ten scenarios across the breadth of the 20th century, so that The Soldier who appears in the opening vignette, set in 1900, is about to deploy in World War II in the next scene.
Nearly one-fifth of the way through the 21st century, though, Schnitzler’s turn-of-the-last-century archetypes (which LaChiusa copies) are starting to feel a little behind the times. “The Nurse” ought to be a career path, not some man’s porn fetish. “The Actress” and “The Whore,” even though they both get to play scenes at the beginning and end of the century, somehow wind up as objects rather than agents in both eras.
That’s not to say there’s no pleasure to be gleaned from Theo Ubique’s intimate production. But that pleasure is limited to certain senses. The ensemble cast sounds fantastic under Jeremy Ramey’s music direction, and Rachel Boylan’s century-spanning costumes are great fun.
But director and choreographer Brenda Didier’s youngish actors often seem physically uncomfortable in one another’s embrace—and in this particular story, and in the close quarters of Theo Ubique’s performance space, that’s the whole enchilada. For a show that’s all about transactional sexuality, the actors here play it a little too safe.
The production’s strongest moments come in the two songs that are most disconnected from the frame of this musical: “Tom” and “Mistress of the Senator,” assigned in the show to “The Young Wife” and “The Actress.”
Both songs appear on multiple-Tony Award–winner Audra McDonald’s first album, released in 1998. And they’re both individually better than the show as a whole—both in McDonald’s renditions and as represented here. Molly LeCaptain’s “Tom” and Neala Barron’s “Mistress of the Senator” are vulnerable enough to make you wish the rest of Theo Ubique’s ho-hum staging lived up to their example.
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre (721 Howard St, Evanston). Book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa. Directed and choreographed by Brenda Didier. Music direction by Jeremy Ramey.
Cast: Megan Elk (The Whore), Christopher Ratliff (The Soldier), Nora Navarro (The Nurse), Nik Kmiecik (The College Boy), Molly LeCaptain (The Young Wife), Royen Kent (The Husband), Marco Tzunux (The Young Thing), Max J. Cervantes (The Writer), Neala Barron (The Actress), The Senator (Courtney Jones).
Designers: Nicholas James Schwartz (scenic), James Kolditz (lighting), Rachel Boylan (costumes), Keith Ryan (wigs), Robert Hornbostel (sound), Matthew Zalinski (props), Jaq Seifert (intimacy director). Assistant director: Adrian Azevedo. Stage manager: Shannon Rourke.
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes; no intermission. Through November 3. Tickets ($42–$57) at theo-u.com.
Photographs by Austin D. Oie.
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