Theatre Review: The Amorous Adventures of Anatol
By Allan Gould
The Amorous Adventures of Anatol runs until Feb. 10. (Image: Cylla von Tiedemann)
There are legendary playwrights, such as Shakespeare, who live forever in our hearts, quotation books and high school exams. There are minor playwrights, whose plays we may read or see on the stage, who are too numerous to list. And there are inventive, daring, even raunchy playwrights, whose fame shoots across the sky for a short time before fading from view.
Then there is Arthur Schnitzler, whose play The Amorous Adventures of Anatol is currently running at the Tarragon Theatre until Feb. 10.
I was eager to see the fine Morris Panych’s adaptation of the entertaining play, originally written in German. Schnitzler was quite a cause célèbre during his lifetime (1862–1931), in both his native Austria and around the world, and he wrote several plays that were not only daring, but were very nearly pornographic (Hitler certainly thought so) and, naturally, were eagerly adapted to many Hollywood movies.
His most famous play, La Ronde, which, interestingly, will be presented by Soulpepper in the coming months, is even more raunchy than the earlier Anatol. Both echo the same theme of men and women continually changing partners, but in the new Panych version, the women are played as different characters by one actor —Nicole Underhay, the wonderful, delightful star from the Shaw Festival. And she is suitably matched to the same male character, played by the gifted and charming Michael Shara.
The idea of one man exchanging young women one after another in bed (or on couches) (or at the wedding altar) (or at the night before his wedding) could be drearily sexist and condescending, except for the fact that Shara’s title character is so wonderfully dim-witted and shallow that the play could well seem like a warning to all women of the unworthiness of some men.
There are jokes galore — most of the best delivered by the fine character actor Robert Persichini as Max, the barely tolerant, often condescending psychiatrist and friend of Anatol. Playboys such as Anatol seem laughable today, possibly because it brings to mind 86-year-old Hugh Hefner, who has recently married a woman younger than his own granddaughter. Morris Panych is a very good director. But there is something in me that wishes he had chosen a stronger play.
How fortunate he was to, at least, cast two brilliant performers who provide performances that alone are worth the price of admission.
The Amorous Adventures of Anatol, Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave., 416-531-1827. Now - Feb. 10.