“Pentagram of Sex”: Round Dance Play Review

Round Dance, a play written in the late 18th century, came to life at the McGill Players’ Theatre on Feb. 18. “What initially attracted me to the play was the fact that it was relatable despite the fact that it was written almost 120 years ago,” said director Hannah Kirby.

The play is a series of interlocking scenes, tied together by themes of persuasion, seduction and frustration. Originally written in German by Arthur Schnitzler, Round Dance easily transcends time and language with its depictions of love, sex and everything that is, or isn’t, in between. Schnitzler was interested in the build-up of sexual desire, as well as what happens afterwards, and how these interactions may not be as unique as they sometimes feel.

“People haven’t really changed all that much,” reflected Kirby. “People still have sex. People will always play this game or dance in order to get what they want. There is something universal about human nature and sexuality in this play.”

Although originally set in 1890s Vienna, the setting could really be anywhere and anytime. The visuals of the play represent this. Simple, yet evocative. Set designers Katey Wattam and Noush Kadian created a versatile wooden set that leaves itself open to the flexibility that Round Dance requires. Characters use it as beds, offices and docksides, and beds again. Lighting plays an important role in the production; often the sexual acts are suddenly illuminated, making the viewer aware, yet blind to exactly what is happening in the dark.

Because Round Dance requires that actors play multiple roles, Kirby says she was “looking for actors who would be flexible in that way.” Her actors, four McGill students and one Concordian, definitely delivered on this. In particular, Connor Spencer’s transition from a nervous and uptight maid to a free spirited poet, “Maggie,” was compelling and hilarious to watch.

Kirby made her own changes to the piece, depicting many of the relationships as same sex, and changing the number of actors from six to five. This reorganization meant that, for those who like symmetry, each of the actors is seduced by every other one, making what Kirby calls a “pentagram of sex.” The equality that comes with this is soothing in a way, and the play acknowledges this as well in its circularity. The play begins with the character of the “whore” and she is also the one who ends it in the final scene.

On a cold winter night, this sexually charged play is a warming experience, topped off with wine and cheese at intermission. While it can be humbling to see that the private interactions we have may just be actions passed down through generations of lovers, it is refreshing to see that we are not alone in these feelings of adoration, desperation and all the things that wrap themselves in the blanket of sex.

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