McCarter’s Fraulein Else:
A rich, dense and artistic evening of Theater packed into an intermissionless 90 minutes is in store for those who attend Fraulein Else, the adaptation of the 1924 novella of the same name by Arthur Schnitzler now on stage at McCarter’s new Berlind Theatre. The adaptation is by Francesca Faridany, who dominates the stage in a tour de force performance in the title role.
The scene is a luxurious spa hotel in San Martino in the Italian Dolomiti Alps in 1912. Fraulein Else is a relatively poor relation who has been brought to the hotel by her rich aunt to holiday with her, her son (Paul), and his married lover (Cissy).
Else is the 19 year old daughter of a less than scrupulous lawyer who has squandered his fortune and standing through gambling and inappropriate investments. Her only life goal is to use her looks, charm and grace to secure a proper marriage. Else fancies herself a coquette, but, in reality, she is a silly, immature child who lacks any understanding of the precariousness of her situation.
Else receives a fatal wakeup call in the form of a letter from her mother informing her that in order to save her desolate father from disgrace, imprisonment, and possibly, suicide, she must use her feminine wiles to secure a large sum of money from an elderly, old family friend, Herr von Dorsday. Her cold, practical mother craftily prepares the letter so as to make it impossible for Else to refuse what she has been made to understand is her obligation to her family.
In return for his money, von Dorsday demands that Else stand naked before him for fifteen minutes. Stephen Wadsworth's brilliant staging makes it clear that inherent in his demand is her complete physical submission. Too late, Else will find that she cannot cope with what is being demanded of her.
The entire Schnitzler novella is in the form of the stream of consciousness ramblings of Else. As the artistic choice has been made to preserve the structure of the novella, the performance is so dominated by Francesca Faridany’s Else that it has the feel of a one woman show despite the presence of a fine supporting cast.
Francesca Faridany is not to be missed. Her energy, early on blithe self centeredness, and ever increasing manic behavior are breathtaking to behold. She is more mature than Else, but the years melt away as her situation spins more and more out of control. It seems to me that in some of Else’s stream of consciousness monologues, the voice of a more mature observer (Schnitzer and/or Faridany) comes through. I feel that while relaying her inner thoughts, Faridany adds a dimension of mature observation, whether intended or not, which provides an added dimension to the text.
Julian Lopez-Morillas is excellent as von Dorsday. Initially, he captures the decent but overbearing in his attraction to Else, old family friend. When he obtains power over Else, Morillas convincingly evolves into a hateful exploiter.
Mary Baird is appropriately harsh and unfeeling as Else’s mother. Michael Tisdale and Lauren Lovett as conflicted cousin Paul and his lover are convincing as privileged Viennese. Omid Abtahit as a porter neatly rounds out the cast.
The entire project seems to have been developed in tandem by Ms. Faridany and her director (and husband) Stephen Wadsworth. Much in evidence here is the high style theatricality that is Wadsworth’s hallmark.
Wadsworth has presided over a number of regional theatre productions of Fraulein Else and as this co-production with Long Wharf opens in Princeton, it is polished to a high gloss. The hand of Wadsworth is evident everywhere starting with the designs of his production team.
Upon entering the theatre, we are treated to the visual delight of Thomas Lynch’s complex, multi layered, bright and colorful crazy quilt of a set. The rear wall is a stone façade of the hotel with ornate windows. It is seen through an upstage transparent curtain depicting snow capped mountains set against a sky of blue.
There are striking settings between the façade and the curtain which include a representation of the room in Else’s Vienna home from where Else’s mother composes the letter that will destroy Else’s world.
The stage floor forward of the mountains is composed of various shapes and areas of grass, hedges, cement, gravel, carpet and wood inlay with pairs of shoes and boots scattered about. Dotted about to provide various settings are an old fashioned hotel front desk fronted by an urn which serves as a receptacle for tennis rackets, an unadorned bench and furnishings of a hotel room complete with chamber pot and water pitcher.
This set is enriched by the very detailed lighting design of Joan Arhelger which hides, highlights and transforms the various planes of the set. The lighting enchants the eye, and augments shifting moods. The evocative costumes by Anna Ruth Oliver are appropriate and attractive.
It is remarkable how accurately the physical production reflects and augments the style and mood of Ms. Faridany’s adaptation and Stephen Wadsworth’s staging.
Else is a victim of her gender and her position at the lowest end of her social circle. However, her resulting values and persona are not admirable. Add this to the theatrically stylized, literary nature of the play, and its density and hectic pace, and the result is that Fraulein Elsa will have its greatest appeal to aficionados of theatre and literature.
In order to fully appreciate the artistry at hand, one must concentrate carefully to follow the rapid fire flow of words emanating from Else, which not only tell us about her, but also provide a picture of the structure and values of pre World War I fin-de-siecle Viennese society. Fraulein Else well rewards the effort.
Fraulein Else will continue through February 15 at the Berlind Theatre of the McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540, Box Office: 609-258.ARTS (2787); online www.mccarter.org.
Fraulein Else, adapted by Francesca Faridany from the novella by Arthur Schnitzler; directed by Stephen Wadsworth. Cast (in order of appearance): Francesca Faridany (Else); Michael Tisdale (Paul); Lauren Lovett (Cissy); Mary Baird (Mother); Julian Lopez-Morillas (Herr von Dorsday); Porter (Omid Abtahi)