“La Ronde”, a drifting social merry-go-round


La Ronde, by Arthur Schnitzler, directed by Arthur Nauzyciel.

Sometimes an image is enough to bring a show to life. In Round, by Arthur Schnitzler, created by Arthur Nauzyciel at the National Theater in Prague, before coming to Rennes, this image is that of a tram at night. He advances, from the back of the plateau, in a cold mist pierced by a large round lamp at the front of the machine. Inside, there are no passengers on seats, but passers-by in a stairwell. Men and women, pressed by who knows what desire, hastened by who knows what fear. Smugglers, in short, on their way to what mobilizes their body and mind: making love.

These characters are outrageous. They also caused a devilish scandal at the beginning of the 19th century.e century. First published in 1900, Round was not created until 1921 in Berlin, where it was sued for disturbing public order, as the reactions in the room were violent. But behind it slipped the poison of anti-Semitism. Arthur Schnitzler was Jewish. He responded to the attacks by prohibiting his play from being performed until his death in 1931, aged 69.

Viennese, doctor, great bourgeois, Arthur Schnitzler has never so well, in his work, drawn up the deadly picture of the end of the century in Austria as in Round. The play opens with the meeting of a girl and a soldier, who make love in the thickets of the suburbs. It continues with the meeting of the soldier with a chambermaid, who we find with a young gentleman, who we find with a young married woman, who we find… Yes, it is indeed about a round, between ten characters who meet or reunite, make love and leave each other.

Insidious melancholy

The piece begins with a ” Hello my angel “and ends with a ” hello “. The angel could be that of love. Dreamed perhaps, but disappeared, flown away in the pursuit of enjoyment which sucks the bodies against each other, inside each other, always in a hurry, worried about reaching their end, overwhelmed at having dared, sobered up immediately after. “Once gone, well, it’s gone”, says one of the characters. There remains the hangover, the return to social order for the time of a transgressed projection, and an insidious melancholy like a lurking death.

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It is this last point that Arthur Nauzyciel’s staging highlights. When the National Theater of Prague offered him to sign a production, the director of the National Theater of Brittany, in Rennes, thought of Round, which sends him back to what we have been through with the pandemic. Rest assured, nothing is explanatory in his show. But its Round knows how to capture the spirit of the times. It puts us on the path to the unconscious – Schnitzler was a contemporary of Freud, who avoided him for a long time, “for fear of meeting [son] double “. The expressionist atmosphere, the syncopated gestures of the sexual act orchestrated by Phia Ménard, the impeccably distanced acting of the Czech actors, all combine to show us a drifting social merry-go-round, sick with its own vacuity.

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