LOS ANGELES—The feisty, funky little Chromolume Theatre at the Attic is at it again, presenting a stageworthy musical property that has not been seen in L.A. for a decade, albeit in a pared-down version with solo piano accompaniment that falls short of giving the work its full due.
The work is Hello Again, book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, whose name draws the attention of dedicated theatergoers. LaChiusa, born in 1962, is a multi-talented musical theatre and opera composer, lyricist, and librettist, known for adventuresome, esoteric shows such as this one, First Lady Suite, Marie Christine (which starred Audra McDonald), The Wild Party, and See What I Wanna See. He has been nominated several times for Tony Awards.
Hello Again first appeared in a 1993-94 production at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater that lasted 101 performances. A daisy chain of interconnected stories about sex—and the search for but never the fact of love—based on Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play Reigen (also known by its French title La Ronde), LaChiusa’s musical was nominated for eight Drama Desk Awards, including three for him (Outstanding Book of a Musical, Outstanding Music, and Outstanding Lyrics). The original cast album was released in 1994.
Schnitzler’s play has also been adapted into an all-gay version by the (now 100-year-old) playwright and critic Eric Bentley, the Roger Vadim film Circle of Love, Otto Schenk’s Der Reigen, and Fernando Meirelles’ film 360.
LaChiusa’s ten scenes take place with the following characters:
The Whore and The Soldier
The Soldier and The Nurse
The Nurse and The College Boy
The College Boy and The Young Wife
The Young Wife and The Husband
The Husband and The Young Thing
The Young Thing and The Writer
The Writer and The Actress
The Actress and The Senator
The Senator and The Whore.
If in Schnitzler’s original play the circular succession of partners revealed a cross-section of fin-de-siècle Vienna from high society to military officers to prostitutes, the unique spin on the story that LaChiusa provides, aside from the musicalization, is that (in non-chronological order) each scene is set in a different decade of the 20th century. For example, The Writer and The Actress takes place in the 1920s during the silent movie era, while the following scene, The Actress and The Senator, takes place in the 1980s, with appropriate changes of costume. In more than one case, the gender of the partner switches in the following scene, indicating a certain fluidity of desire.
In fact, there is little that is truly erotic in the show: Everyone is in this play for their own amoral, self-interested reasons, either to satisfy pure lust, to escape boredom or simply to be naughty, or to secure some form of social status. As The Husband states to his Young Wife in a moment of unrehearsed candor, “Sometimes I like to forget that I love you…. Forgetting helps to keep the romance new.” In the end, this is a sad, caustic view of romance, warm bodies wrapping themselves in each other’s arms only to be emotionally bruised.
Such bitter honesty is far removed from the bubble-gum romance that passes for love in popular music. It seems closer to the contemporary casual dating scene that prides itself on no-strings-attached atomization.
The ten scenes are not strictly two-character affairs. In almost every one, other actors in the play perform subsidiary roles, as other moviegoers in a theatre while the principal hanky-panky proceeds, or as background cabaret or radio singers who establish the sense of place and time. Several scenes reference other works, such as the opening scene with The Whore recalling Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock.
The Chromolume production features musical direction by Brenda Varda at the piano, choreography by Bretten M. Popiel, and direction by Richard Van Slyke. The creative costume design is by Michael Mullen; some of his creations, like The Nurse, look like soft-porn paintings on calendars.
The cast includes (alphabetically) Cesar Cipriano, Michael Corbett, Kevin Corsini, Tal Fox, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, Michelle Holmes, Sarah Randall Hunt, Allison Lind, Bretten M. Popiel, and Corey Rieger. With its minimalist production values (except for costumes), I wish I could say this brave venture is a wholly adequate representation of the musical. Someday I’d like to experience a more fleshed-out staging.
Hello Again plays Fri. and Sat. at 8 pm and Sun. at 7 pm through May 28. Tickets may be purchased online at www.crtheatre.com or by phone at (323) 205-1617. Chromolume Theatre at the Attic is located at 5429 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles 90016. For more information, visit the company website or call (323) 510-2688.