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Rondelay

Review by Sean McQuaid

Your puritanical prattler was shocked, shocked to find the picture postcard purity of North Rustico wantonly sullied by the summer sex romp known as Rondelay. Even more disturbingly, he rather liked it.

The scene of the orgiastic crime? The newly minted Watermark Theatre, which changed its name from the Montgomery Theatre around the same time this show’s previews opened. Coincidence? One wonders.

Granted, the venue’s handsomely glossy program chalks this rechristening up to the theatre’s expanding mandate, its mark of quality drama and a nod to its watery hometown; but regardless, a season of risqué sexual drama seems an apt time to shed the wholesome mantle of children’s author Lucy Maud Montgomery, who is doubtless averting her spectral eyes.

In all seriousness, a name change makes sense at this stage in the former Montgomery Theatre’s development. The venue has long been gradually inching away from its initial scripts-available-in-Lucy-Maud’s-lifetime mandate to a somewhat broader “classics reignited” mission statement, and retiring the Montgomery moniker reflects this welcome evolution.

More importantly, a Montgomery Theatre by any other name still stages some pretty sweet theatre, and Rondelay is no exception.

Reigen (the play’s original German title referring to a circular dance) was penned by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler circa 1897 and banned by censors upon its public debut in 1903. The play proved enduringly popular in countries such as France (as La Ronde) and has been internationally adapted or imitated repeatedly for stage, television and film.

Rondelay is the latest English adaptation, penned by Watermark’s artistic director Duncan McIntosh and set in 1900-era Charlottetown instead of the original script’s Vienna. The names of people and places change, but the basic story remains the same underneath its fresh coat of local colour: sex, sex and more sex.

Eight men and women from assorted social strata fall into and out of sexual entanglements in a series of ten vignettes that play like a thematic anthology but are interlinked by recurring characters. Each character appears in two of the vignettes with two different partners.

Two actors play all eight characters: Rebecca Parent appears as prostitute Leocadia Campbell, servant Angie Patterson, adulterous wife Emma Symons and actress Ramona Payne, while Jonathan Widdifield portrays soldier Dominick Shaw, young gentleman Edward Jenkins, unfaithful husband James Symons & Justice David Davies.

It’s a quadruple success for both performers, who have good chemistry together and enough range to craft four completely distinctive characters apiece in one evening. Parent in particular excels at nailing the script’s comedy, from the dryly seductive wit of Angie’s workplace romance to the larger-than-life bombast of Ramona.

Director McIntosh and company paint these vignettes with feeling, by times sad, poignant, touching, tawdry, unsettling, and often surprisingly funny. They’re aided by Scott Penner’s fine sets and costumes, Michael Doherty’s evocative musical score and most especially T. Erin Gruber’s lighting design. Her projections – alternately naturalistic, impressionistic, surreal, cartoonish, symbolic, subtle or overpowering – help set the scenes, facilitate transitions, establish mood and express character, crafting a dreamlike atmosphere that permeates and enhances the show.

Occasionally long or awkward scene changes were among this polished production’s few inelegant notes, but your reviewer saw an early June preview show, so any rough edges may be rounded off by the time the play opens fully in July.

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