SAN DIEGO–Arthur Schnitzler’s 1896 comic tale “La Ronde” told a classic love story about a circle of deception. “Getting Around,” a rewrite by Ralph Elias and Chrissy Vogele, makes a circle that goes nowhere.
The idea–updating and localizing Schnitzler–is clever, the implementation not so. Like “La Ronde,””Getting Around” is composed of scenes of serial lovemaking, with the succession forming an ironic ring.
In the opening scene, a hooker takes on a Navy pilot outdoors. Nine scenes later, an actor wakes up in bed with the prostitute. In between is a sequence of seduction set in a variety of locations around San Diego and featuring mostly middle-class types in various occupations, weighed somewhat toward the artistic. Of the nine characters, three are actors or writers. And the chain includes gay love between two bisexual men.
Works of this sort are characteristically uneven, and “Getting Around” doesn’t escape this trait. With the script ranging from hilarious to banal, and the Elias-directed ensemble spotty in performance, some episodes bubble with fun while others sink into smuttiness.
What the play lacks most, however, is a point. It works its uphill-downhill way around the circle–sometimes amusingly, sometimes monotonously–and then just ends. But to what purpose?
The obvious answer–especially since Schnitzler used, as a link for his characters, a case of syphilis–would seem to be a warning about AIDS. And “Getting Around” does have references to the disease on its set and among the pop songs that bridge its scenes.
But the script also emphasizes condom use, particularly in the scenes with the prostitute. And the men in the bathhouse talk of a “safe” relationship. So what is this play saying? That sleeping around is bad? That it’s OK if discretion is used? Or simply that this is just the way life is, so we might as well all get a yuk or two out of the pattern?
If that’s it, there needs to be more yuks–or more insight. Writing erotica requires a delicate touch, or it can degenerate into porn, and some of “Getting Around” verges on the latter. Without ingenuity, steamy becomes seamy.
One scene that does work features Marti Jo Pennisi as a young wife sneaking into her first affair with a writer (Philip Charles Sneed). Sexiness abounds, but both provide expressive faces and comedic touches to keep the scene’s appeal above the prurient. And Sneed follows with more good work as the writer has a romantic rendezvous with a self-absorbed actress, played charmingly by Cristina Soria.
Costumes, by Stacy Rae, generally help to peg the characters’ place in society. The set, by John Blunt and Deanna Dean, is less defining, consisting mainly of components for various beds and segmented panels with smudged headlines about modern romance. For scene changes, they get shunted about by cast members and stage hands briskly interacting with one another and accompanied by Lawrence Czoka’s pop-song score. It features, of course, the Beach Boys singing “I Get Around.”
Debra Marks’ lighting stumbled with opening-night glitches that included having the house lights up for the last scene before intermission.