Even though Arthur Schnitzler’s “La ronde” is set in 1890s Vienna, the play’s sexual roundelay transcends time and place. So it’s no surprise that Michael John LaChiusa’s 1994 musical adaptation embarks on a tour of 20th-century America, with each of its 10 encounters taking place in a different decade. That’s a challenge for a small theater company, but in the intimate confines of the Calderwood Pavilion’s Hall A at the Boston Center for the Arts, the Bridge Repertory Theater makes “Hello Again” into an exuberant cabaret piece.
Schnitzler’s “round dance” conceit is that one member of each duet goes on to the next one. The Whore and the Soldier are followed by the Soldier and the Parlor Maid, the Parlor Maid and the Young Gentleman, the Young Gentleman and the Young Wife, and so on, ending with the Count and the Whore. LaChiusa did some updating, making the Parlor Maid a Nurse, the Young Gentleman a College Boy, the Poet a Writer, and the Count a Senator. He also turned the Little Miss into a male “Young Thing.”
What he preserved was Schnitzler’s fascinating shifts of power. His Nurse seems putty in the hands of the Soldier, looking for love where only sex is on offer; in the next scene, however, she’s got the College Boy tied up with her stocking so she can have her way with him. The Young Wife gets the better of her Husband, cajoling him into sex as a substitute for going to the opera, but then the Husband takes advantage of the Young Thing, waiting to consummate their relationship before telling him that the ship they’re on — the Titanic — is going down. Schnitzler is wistfully cynical; his characters use sex to get what they want. LaChiusa is wistfully romantic; his characters use sex to try to make what prove to be elusive human connections. LaChiusa also introduces a brooch that makes the rounds. The Soldier steals it from the Whore, but at the end Senator returns it to the Whore, a gift, and she kisses him, the first and only kiss in “Hello Again,” a hopeful note to finish on.
Michael Bello, who directs the Bridge production, adds a further wrinkle by deploying just six actors in the 10 roles. Double-casting Sean Patrick Gibbons as the Soldier and the Writer, Andrew Spatafora as the College Boy and the Young Thing, Jared Dixon as the Husband and the Senator, and Aubin Wise as the Nurse and the Actress can blur identities, particularly given the sometimes minimal costume changes. And on the whole, the acting is better than the singing of LaChiusa’s less-than-catchy recitatives.
This is, nonetheless, a lovely production that captures the flavors of the different eras. Anne Sherer’s set groups the tables around an octagonal Oriental rug that demarcates the playing space, with a cozy, cheerful bar in one corner on which the actors perch and sometimes stand and sing. The action spreads into the audience, but not obtrusively. The sexual pantomime is graphic but brief; there’s no nudity and little bare skin.
The cast, which includes Lauren Eicher as a softhearted Whore and Sarah Talbot as a resourceful Young Wife, brings out the tender subtleties of the relationships, though Gibbons’s Soldier and Spatafora’s Young Thing are appropriately hard-edged and manipulative. Both Chris Bocchiaro’s lighting and the three-piece band led by Mindy Cimini on piano clarify the proceedings. It’s an evening worth saying “hello” to. Perhaps even “hello again.”