‘Anatol’ a sexy, rollicking 19th-century romp 

click to enlarge Climactic dinner scene: From left, Wiley Naman Strasser, Mike Ryan, Delia MacDougall and Tim Kniffin light up the stage. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Climactic dinner scene: From left, Wiley Naman Strasser, Mike Ryan, Delia MacDougall and Tim Kniffin light up the stage.

Anatol is in love with love. The gleam of a woman’s hair, a kiss to the back of her neck, a bittersweet goodbye — all send the title character of Arthur Schnitzler’s Viennese comedy into paroxysms of joy.

Especially those goodbyes.

On his relentless quest for the ideal woman, this lusty lothario doesn’t care how many women he loves and leaves. But it’s the leaving that gets tricky in Schnitzler’s sexy, sardonic 1893 play. Shocking in its own time, the new Aurora Theatre Co. production, directed by company co-founder Barbara Oliver and featuring a witty translation by Margaret Schaefer, turns the 19th-century period piece into a rollicking romp.

Oliver’s production sets the action in Schnitzler’s fin-de-siecle Vienna, with dark woods, gilt edges,  glittering chandeliers (sets by John Iacovelli, warmly lit by Krista Smith) and rich gowns (costumes by Anna Oliver) effectively setting the scene.

Schaefer’s translation is accessible, and Oliver’s brisk, assured staging yields a comic tour de force.

Anatol (Mike Ryan) is obsessed with women, and each of the play’s seven scenes — originally written as separate plays — finds him intoxicated by a new love.

Dancers, actresses, circus stars, married women — even on his wedding day, he finds time for a dalliance. His friend Max (the wry Tim Kniffin) offers counsel and the occasional alibi.

Yet Anatol is hopelessly neurotic (Schnitzler, a contemporary of Freud’s, was interested in psychology), and the chief concern of this “frivolous melancholic” is whether the women are faithful to him.

In the first scene, he hypnotizes his current amour, Cora (Delia MacDougall), cagily building up to the big question: Has she cheated on him?

In each new scene, insecurity trumps romance. Anatol interrogates one woman, berates another. In the show’s brilliant high point, he invites the object of his desire to dinner, fully intending to break up with her. Over oysters and wine, she turns the tables, beating him to the punch.

Ryan captures Anatol’s romantic sensitivity and spiteful wrath in an exuberant performance, and Kniffin drips with sarcasm as Max. Wiley Naman Strasser is aptly unctuous as the servant Franz. But it’s MacDougall, playing all six of Anatol’s women, who emerges as the star of Oliver’s production.

Captivating, incisive and very funny, MacDougall makes each character distinct. And, deception for deception, she gives as good as she gets.

Anatol

Presented by Aurora Theatre Co.

Where: 2081 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes May 13

Tickets: $30 to $48

Contact: (510) 843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org

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Georgia Rowe

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