Dietz’s American La Ronde

Dietz’s American La Ronde

For Steven Dietz’s American La Ronde, I wrote the following Dramaturg’s Note and edited both American La Ronde Program and American La Ronde Know Before You Go (7) supporting material.

Dramaturg’s Note
American La Ronde: The Pleasures of Adaptation

On the title page of his play, Steven Dietz makes no secret that his American La Ronde (2017) is an adaptation of Reigen (1900) – known in English as La Ronde – by Austrian Jewish writer and dramatist Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931). Adaptation of existing works has been a pillar of theatre-making at least since ancient Greece. The approach has proved successful because adapting the same stories combines the familiarity of repetition with the novelty of variation while demonstrating the playwright’s individual point of view and artistic prowess.

As French theorist Gérard Genette suggests, “one who really loves texts must wish from time to time to love (at least) two together” (Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, 1982). In fact, perceiving an adaptation as adaptation is part of the pleasure of engaging with this type of artistic production, one that can only be enjoyed by “knowing audiences” aware of the link between the earlier and later text (Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation, 2006). For those unfamiliar with Schnitzler’s work, it is therefore essential to underscore at least two important aspects of his play: its unconventional dramatic structure and its history of censorship due to a titillating subject matter that unmasked the private lives of a cross section of Viennese society.

In contrast with the typical climactic structure that highlights the changed situation between beginning and end, Reigen hinges on a circular structure that concludes just where it started, thus signaling stagnation and disillusion in regard to human relationships. In a series of ten scenes, each time one of two interlocutors continues to the next dialogue with a different partner until the circle is completed.  With a single exception, the action progresses rather swiftly to sexual intercourse, indicated on the page by one or more lines of dashes towards the middle of each scene.

Hesitant about the literary value of his work, the author initially had it printed in just 200 copies at his own expense. However, following sanctions against a Munich student theatre that presented three scenes from the play, book sales were banned in Germany in 1904 and the official premiere in Berlin and Vienna had to wait until 1920 and 1921 respectively. Even so, due to right-wing antisemitic political demonstrations, the play’s cast, director, and theatre administrators in Berlin were charged with creating a public nuisance and taking part in obscene acts, even if the staging had simply lowered the curtains and played waltz music during the incriminated scenes. Even if the artists were eventually exonerated, Schnitzler’s embarrassment led him to wish the play would never again be performed. And yet, its shock value must have contributed to its continued appreciation.

In transferring the action to contemporary America, Dietz adopted the same circular structure but modernized both characters and situations, with the addition of a bracelet that constantly changes hands and becomes a common thread connecting all involved. Emphasizing the continuity of each scene and between them, this adaptation eliminates the need to censor sexual activities by instead staging the difficulties of “getting to the point” in today’s more permissive yet complicated society. But intimacy is nevertheless sought after, especially when, for instance, the author insists: “This is a really good kiss. It is not a ‘stage kiss.’ It is not fake.” And true intimacy is perhaps the most shocking today when our relationships are increasingly filtered and mediated.



Stebos is a stage director, producer, and dramaturg, based in Las Vegas and New York City in the United States.

Stebos has 47 posts and counting. See all posts by Stebos

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