March 25, 2007 “Anatol,” Pacific Resident Theatre, Venice, CA, by James Scarborough

by James Scarborough

There is emotional baggage of the restraining order, 6 o’clock news variety.

And there is emotional baggage of the oh-thank-God-it’s-not-me, dinner party variety.

Arthur Schnitzler’s Anatol, directed by Dan Bonnell for the Pacific Resident Theatre, brims with the second kind.

Such a production: an excellent ensemble performance; an exquisite set; and direction that captures the bipolar nature of the lead character and the era in which he lived.

We laugh with astonishment at someone who readily acknowledges his Achilles heels (an Irish memory; a preference for women in the abstract, not the concrete; a tendency to shake not stir his relationships) but can’t do anything about them.

Anatol has to be one of the most interesting (read complex) lovers in drama. He’s romantic but in a Freudian not Byronic way (attractive at first then watch out!). He’s a Cassanova but he’s also an emotional wreck. A bounder, a hypocrite, romantically if not certifiably nuts, this plum role showcases the fine line between love and madness.

The story recounts his experience with seven on-stage women (and countless others who don’t appear). By his own admission he dates types: the sexual kitten, the predator, the unavailable married woman, the haughty hottie, et cetera. All here, all played to typecast perfection.

Countless women, same pattern: intrigue of the hormonal variety, inevitable disenchantment; move on to another without finishing the other. Women revolve through his life like Cabinet ministers in the Bush Administration after a mid-term election.

Bonnell understands all this. He undercuts opulence with mania and creates the unnerving story of Anatol ((Matt Letscher) who appears normal enough at the start, Beach Boy-handsome like Owen Wilson. He talks about the trendy things guys (well-educated, men of leisure guys) must have talked about in those days (hypnotize their girlfriends, inquire into their fidelity).

Then you realize that Anatole’s not breezy like Owen Wilson but dark like Brian Wilson. Well-packaged dementia, here we come.

Letscher nails the transformation. You can see why he’s the ladies man: suave, silver-tongued, well-dressed and –coiffed. But the instant one of his women-folk transgresses, i.e., shows the slightest trace of human imperfection, he goes postal: he sibilates like a viper; his face contorts in three directions; and his hands move like he’s conducting three orchestras at once.

His chum, Max (Alex Enberg), cool-headed, not a little cynical, provides reality checks, but to no avail. Interesting guy, Max. But the play’s called Anatole, not Max.

Oh to feast on one Fine set. Laura Fine’s set design was fin-de-siecle scrumptious. Opulent drapery snaked its way up the wall and made

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