There's something timeless about La Ronde. Arthur Schnitzler's 1900 Viennese waltz of a play has not gone out of style or discussion since its creation. The story of ten disparate and desperate people and their ten sexual encounters has been adapted numerous times for numerous venues, each one bringing something unique to the tale. David Hare adapted it for Nicole Kidman's Broadway debut in The Blue Room, and Michael John LaChiusa musicalised the play (and made two of the encounters homosexual) in Hello, Again.
And now, at the Fringe Fest, we have seduction..., a British import by Jack Heifner, which takes the story a bit further and eliminates all of the straight elements. Five Gorgeous Young Englishmen play ten Gorgeous Young Englishmen who hook up in a circular daisy chain while a revolving Disco Ball of Symbolism spins 'round and 'round throughout. Holding true to Schnitzler's original concept, few of the men are given names, and none of the names are used in the programme or script. Instead, they are credited by their occupation: The Rent Boy, The Sailor, The Handyman, etc. Schnitzler made each person a representative of his or her social class, and examined not only desire but gender and class issues. Heifner keeps the class issues beautifully intact, but by making all of the encounters homosexual, he removes the gender issues. Such an excision would not be a weakness if he substituted something else for this one issue say, internalized homophobia, social homophobia, the AIDS crisis, identity issues, etc but he does not. Instead, the encounters simply feature Gorgeous Young Englishmen wearing very little, which is always a good thing, but doesn't necessarily make for the most compelling theatre. Indeed, whenever the conversation gains some depth and becomes genuinely interesting, it is abruptly cut short either by sex or the end of the scene. Conversation interruptus is soooo frustrating.
The five Gorgeous Young Englishmen can be held partially accountable for some of the play's shortcomings. Whenever Heifner's words run out of steam, so do the actors. While there are some genuine moments of poignancy, as well as clever moments of true wit, the play rarely has much depth or real character development (though to be fair, there's not much time for development, as each scene is less than ten minutes long). Adam Blake, Richard Gee, Phil Price, Peter Sundby, and Gareth Watkins have good chemistry together, and are certainly pleasing on the eyes, but rarely strike real sparks. The strongest moment belongs to Messrs. Sundby and Watkins as a long-term couple struggling with fidelity. The tension in their dialogue goes beyond mere sexuality, and encompasses many intense emotions at once. It's a lovely little moment.
Otherwise, the play is certainly fun to watch (have I mentioned all the Gorgeous Young Englishmen?), but largely forgettable afterwards. I have heard, however, that changes have been made for tomorrow's final performance, so perhaps some of the weaknesses have been strengthened up.