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by Arthur Schnitzler, adapted by Morris Panych
Playhouse Theatre Company
Vancouver Playhouse
Feb. 16-March 8
604-873-3311 or 

Vienna in the 1890s must have been one horny town. Gustav Klimt was painting those gorgeous, golden portraits of women in poses of erotic bliss.  Sigmund Freud was developing his theories of human behaviour based on notions like penis envy and the pleasure principle.  And playwright Arthur Schnitzler was writing about a sexual adventurer named Anatol who just couldn’t get enough of it.

In his world premiere adaptation of Anatol at the Playhouse, writer and director Morris Panych overlays Schnitzler’s fin de siecle sexual psychology with his own contemporary brand of absurdist comedy.  Handsome, feckless, raffish Anatol, his psychologist friend Max, and the seven women he can’t live with or without take us on a witty, if somewhat shapeless, chase around the egotism, ambivalence, and hypocrisies of love.

“How dare she lie to me the way I lie to her,” complains Anatol about his latest lover.  He’s sure she’ll cheat on him because he knows he’ll cheat on her.  And when confronted, she agrees that she’d never tell him the truth.

Shaw Festival and Soulpepper veteran Mike Shara plays Anatol with a winning combination of charm, conceit and confusion.  While shopping for gifts for one woman he seduces another.  On the morning of his own marriage he’s in bed with someone else. Food for his insatiable sexual appetite, women are a mystery to him.  But he’s just as much a mystery to himself.

As bemused, quietly gay Max (we hear many times how he’s “not interested in women”), the excellent David Marr exchanges quick witticisms with his friend.  Like a good psychologist he gently probes Anatol with questions that should trigger self-awareness.  But Anatol doesn’t think with his brain.

And how can we blame him when all seven women are played by the exquisite Jennifer Lines.  She has such presence and posture, endowing even the giggliest of them with dignity, poignancy and power.  Some, like Mimi the dancer and Liona the actress, give as good as they get. 

There’s not another actress in the city who wears clothes like Lines. Costumer Nancy Bryant puts her into a magnificent variety of dresses and wigs, and one amazing hat resembling a large, fuzzy hockey puck with pink and black feathers.

Ken MacDonald’s set is a Freudian pun: a large wall of drawers, repository of Anatol’s love secrets and his unconscious, transformed into a restaurant, jewelry store, or bedroom by a variety of servants all played by Chris Cochrane.

In the end Anatol makes little progress in understanding the other sex but some in comprehending his own. “Women are a riddle,” he concludes.  “Men are simply a joke.”

Jerry Wasserman