Playwright: Michael John LaChiusa, after Schnitzler. At: BoHo Theatre, 7016 N. Glenwood. Tickets: 866-811-4111; bohotheatre.com; $19-$22. Runs through: May 1
Arthur Schnitzler's 1897 play Reigenusually translated as La Rondewas a landmark of sexual frankness. It wasn't about acts or facts of sex, but about libido and ego bringing people together for brief physical couplings devoid of real love, although not necessarily devoid of emotional longing. The nerves struck by Schnitzler were universal enough for the play to be widely translated, inspiring at least four films and numerous musical and non-musical stage adaptations. Directors find the work's structure appealing, too: intimate two-character scenes in which one person carries forward from the previous scene, so the prostitute has sex with a soldier, the soldier with a nurse, the nurse with a young patient, the patient with a married woman, and so on back to the prostitute. Thus, Hello Again for the title of Michael John LaChiusa's chamber-opera adaptation.
LaChiusa is true to Schnitzler's form although he varies the couplings and uses the 10-person ensemble as a chorus. He also places each scene in a different 20th-century decade, which allows him to draw inspiration from period musical styles; thus, there's a waltz for 1900 but be-bop and close-harmony vocals for the 1940s. In Schnitzler's ironic original, the emotions of the moment never survive sexual climax, and LaChiusa's pithy lyrics retain this hallmark. The theme reaches its musical and verbal peak in two late scenes. Scene 7, a gay pick-up in the 1970s, features soaring music in one of the show's few duets ( in most scenes only one person sings ) as a lonely boy sings "All I want is somewhere safe" while his older love-of-the-night wants an angel. Then, in the closing Scene 10, a senator begs the sleeping prostitute next to him, "Sweet lover, don't wake up or I wake up alone," uncertain whether he is the dreamer or the dream of an idyllic tenderness.
LaChiusa's music ranges from operatic to soft rock and the excellent BoHo ( sic ) cast is fully up to the mark under co-directors Michael Ryczek and Stephen Rader, and musical director Nick Sula. The attractive cast offers a sufficient skin-and-basked quotient ( although there's no full nudity ) but audiences really should note the musical quality on display. Each cast memberfrom the twinkish Adam Fane and kittenish Adrianna Parson to mature Robert Wharton and alluring Heather Townsendis a fine singing actor with great pipes and unerringly correct for character type as well.
Schnitzler couldn't portray sex in his era, so his scenes are pre- or post-coital. BoHo has no such reservations, and the simulated sex of some scenes is in-your-face in BoHo's postage stamp-sized storefront. Some may enjoy this; I found it, uh, distracting and unnecessary, but that's my only caveat about this fine rendering of Hello Again.