October 23, 2003

The heroes of this production of this remarkable play are playwright Arthur Schnitzler and adapter-director Jonathan Bank. Bank has taken Schnitzler’s brilliant but unwieldy four-hour drama, “Das Weite Land,” and shaped it into two and a half hours of the most compelling theatre. With the roles cut from 29 to 15, Bank still has, by contemporary standards, a crowded cast of fully realized characters to tell his story. And Schnitzler’s story of love and lechery is a masterwork. For this reviewer, Schnitzler previously seems to have been served up secondhand with not much of the original taste intact; suddenly, with “Far and Wide,” there’s a large plate of meat and potatoes before you. Schnitzler has the most penetrating vision of human relationships, often expressed in the most contradictory terms. The acute psychological insights never falter and make this a sustained drama for head and heart. Again, we are in debt to the Mint Theater for this Lazarus- like exhumation.

It is 1911 and the Austrian haute bourgeoisie is at play-tennis and other love matches. The play’s several stories swirl around the handsome Hofreiters. Friedrich (Hans Tester) is a straying Don Juan, yet still loved by his long-suffering wife, Genia (Lisa Bostnar). When Friedrich’s best friend, Dr. Maur (Ezra Barnes), expresses interest in the precocious 20-year-old Erna (Kate Arrington), naturally Friedrich moves in the same direction. Genia finds consolation with a young ensign, Otto (Joshua Decker), and the games begin.

The linchpin of this production is Bostnar’s Genia. It is an elegant performance, crammed with emotional detail. While Tester’s Friedrich has energy, it only hints at the complexity of the character and displays a singular lack of vocal nuance. There’s also strong support from Barnes, Decker, Lee Bryant, and Allen Lewis Rickman. The setting by Vicki R. Davis, a chain-link fence around a tennis court, proves to be more metaphorical than atmospheric, but Theresa Squire’s creamy costumes are creatively appropriate.