Guare the Heart Is

ARTHUR SCHNITZLER, a doctor-playwright of Chekhovian stature, knew enough not to neglect it. His Reigen, better known by its French title, La Ronde, is a somberly funny study of 10 human specimens pre- and postcoitus. Sometimes love's involved, at others only money or power. The subtext is the transmission of syphilis from one corpus to the next; the even sadder surface is the transmission of lies, matched to the speaker's social class and position in the encounter.

Banned in its own time, La Ronde is unplayable now except as reconstructed social history. The mores of a time that refused to mention sex publicly are gibberish to an era that screams it from every billboard. The only solution would be a brand-new play, on Schnitzler's grid, featuring new characters and new lies. David Hare's The Blue Room, unfortunately, is barely half such a play. Grabbing lazily for analogies, he takes far too many from Max Ophuls's brilliant but misguided 1950 film. (Schnitzler's Junge Herr wasn't a student till Ophuls bespectacled him.) Worse, Hare leaves in chunks of verbatim Schnitzler that sound absurd in the mouths of people who live by cell phones and hard-sell cynicism, or unwisely carries over Schnitzler's data without its irony. Hare's Actress says of her gay leading man, "He's living with a postman." But Schnitzler's Actress says her costar "has an arrangement [Verhältnis] with the man who delivers his mail"— characterization, joke, realistic detail, and social mores, and all in seven words in the German.

Mary Louise Wilson in Bosoms and Neglect: what we do to each other for love
Susan Johann
Mary Louise Wilson in Bosoms and Neglect: what we do to each other for love


Bosoms and Neglect
By John Guare
Signature Theatre
555 West 42nd Street

The Blue Room
By David Hare
Based on Schnitzler's Reigen
Cort Theatre
Broadway and 48th Street

Still, Hare's half-done text has a punchy playability that Sam Mendes's dryly austere production exploits to the full. Apart from one smarmy running joke— the time of each sex act is projected on the back wall— everything onstage looks beautiful, albeit cold and distant. Iain Glen, playing all the male roles, warms it up from time to time, with both body and voice. Nicole Kidman equals him in the former, catching the physical language of each character; vocally, though, she has the usual film-star limitation, a breathy, centerless tone with few colors. Consumer warning: Her heralded bare-bosom moment takes place far upstage, in dim candlelight. But bare flesh doesn't help, since it only makes you wonder how all these characters could share the same body type. Schnitzler's intentions were actively unerotic; Hare's, barely half fulfilled, can hardly be read through the elegant gloom.

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