Adapted by: Francesca Faridany
(from the novella by Arthur Schnitzler)
At: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis
Phone: (773) 753-4472; $35-$50
Runs through: May 16
Arthur Schnitzler, the Viennese writer who wrote the novella upon which the Court Theatre's latest outing is based, was the author of both prose and fiction. Among his best-known work for the stage is La Ronde (which was, for its time, a shocking look at a series of sexual links in Vienna), later made into a Max Ophuls film. This play, and others, works in the same sexual egocentric milieu that Schnitzler's artistic and intellectual contemporaries flourished, including Freud, composers such as Berg and Schoenberg, and painters like Klimt. His prose is now probably best known for the novella, Traumnovelle, upon which Stanley Kubrick based his Cruise-Kidman disaster, Eyes Wide Shut.
And now Court Theatre is showcasing another adaptation of a Schnitzler novella, Fraulein Else. The slim book has been adapted by Francesca Faridany and tells the story of 19-year-old Else, who is on vacation at a posh Viennese resort. When the giddy and superficial Else (teenage girls haven't changed much) receives a grave missive from her mother, asking her to play on the kindness of a wealthy family friend to help her attorney father meet a gambling debt, she is plunged into a psychological crisis. With the weight of her family's survival on her shoulders, Else contemplates how she will seduce this family friend without—as her mother implores—'reproaching' herself. When the family friend insists on a sexual payment in return for helping Else's family out, her world collapses. Schnitzler tells Else's story in stream of consciousness; Else's interior monologue is more central than the actual occurrences of what turns out to be her final day.
Faridany does amazing work with this adaptation, managing to coherently tell a highly interior story of a flighty young woman's psychological collapse. The problem is, Schnitzler, who wrote both for the stage and the single reader, did not choose to tell Else's story in theatrical form. He may have made that decision for a reason: Fraulein Else is a story better suited for the one-on-one intimacy of author to reader. As a staged piece (and through no fault of the ambition of Faridany and director Lucy Smith Conroy), the dramatic tension of the story falls apart. Fraulein Else, with the exception of a few beautifully executed interactions, takes place mostly in the mind of our heroine and she talks and talks and talks for the entire length of the play, telling us her fears, her motivations, and her desires. While all of this is interesting enough, it's not dramatic. On the page, however, Fraulein Else works in a completely different way, because it allows my imagination to do the staging, engaging me in a way this admittedly talented creative and thespian ensemble could not.
It's a shame that Fraulein Else ultimately fails to satisfy, because there is such capable work on display here, particularly that of Whitney Sneed as Else. Sneed captures Else's vulnerability and youthful exuberance (bordering on mania) very well and lives up to the rigorous demands of the play to showcase both exterior and interior actions with vividness and sensitivity. As Dorsday, the rich lecher upon whom Else prevails, Roderick Peeples does heroic work, at once subtle yet smarmy. The rest of the cast, including inspired turns by Paula Scrofano and Linda Gillum, acquit themselves admirably. Michael Brown's abstract stage design suggests mountains and their dangers with a few deft touches. I just wish all of this talent had gone toward a piece more suited to the medium of theater.