Far and Wide
Among the city's important pre-war writers, along with Franz Kafka, was the doctor-turned-playwright Arthur Schnitzler. Most famous for his roundelay of sexual encounters titled Reigen (also known as La Ronde and Hands Around), Schnitzler wrote contemporaneously with Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw, and Strindberg. Reigen has had an unmistakable impact on stage writing about relationships as seen in such works as Patrick Marber's Closer, to name only one recent example.
Few of Schnitzler's other works are ever seen by English-speaking audiences, but New Yorkers are fortunate that the Mint Theater Company's mission is to rediscover plays that have been overlooked. This month, the Mint has chosen to remount a pair of its hit productions, one a drama by D.H. Lawrence and the other Schnitzler's Das weite Land, which has been retitled Far and Wide. While the production does not meet the standards set by the Mint's other shows, it still intrigues and provokes.
Director Jonathan Bank notes in the program that he did not merely pen an English version of this play (as did Tom Stoppard with Undiscovered Country in 1979) but significantly adapted the play and halved the cast to 15. Many of Schnitzler's critics have advocated such trimming. However, the play still seems long; it has gone from four hours in length to nearly three. Our consciousness of the show's duration is partially due to moments of slack direction. Also, the performance under review seemed to be an off-night; the cast was not helped by an audience hesitant to laugh. Yet the script's psychological insights are frequently so sharp that they redeem Freud's lavish praise of its author.
A terrific performance is turned in by Lisa Bostnar as Genia, the long-suffering wife of the gadabout Friedrich, played by Hans Tester. Their marriage is strained by the death of a friend and by Friedrich's infidelity, not to mention his infantile narcissism. While Tester's Friedrich is energetic and absorbing, foppish mannerisms at times overwhelm the performance. Following some recriminations and mutual jealousy with Genia, Friedrich allows his wandering eye to fall on Erna, played by a chillingly focused Kate Arrington. The erotic components of gender relations obsessed Schnitzler, but the complications they create in this play are predictable and prosaic, serving wholly as a road map for psychic excavation.
While confronted with her husband's continued roaming, Genia herself faces temptation in the person of a young marine named Otto (Joshua Decker). Friedrich's doctor friend Mauer, played by Ezra Barnes, wanders through this mess, serving as a weak conscience for the characters as the play spirals toward a violent end. What thrills us here are not Mauer's sanctimonious speeches but lines like Genia's statement about progeny: "When young, they'll sell you for a toy. Later, even less." Hearing our unspoken fears stated so bluntly and bracingly makes up for those moments when director Bank seems unequal to his formidable task.
Vicki R. Davis's set provokes thought with a chain-link fence around the action but also keeps us at a bit of a distance. The costumes are nicely rendered by Theresa Squire, and Stefan Jacobs's sound design hits appropriately morbid notes. To everyone's credit, the production hangs together and we leave the theater satisfied.