Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

The bitter loss of innocence

Review by Jim Trageser

Fräulein Else
From the novella by Arthur Schnitzler
Translated and adapted by Francesca Faridany
Directed by Stephen Wadsworth

La Jolla Playhouse
Mandell Weiss Forum
University of California, San Diego campus
Through July 13


It is a theme explored as rarely as it is universal – the compromises we impose on our families in order to keep up appearances.

At the heart of the early 20th-century novella by Arthur Schnitzler is a requirement for a silly young girl who's led a very sheltered life to suddenly face up to her family's untenable financial situation – and in so doing to choose between morality and loyalty.

As brought to the stage by Francesca Faridany (who also stars in the title role in this world premiere production at the La Jolla Playhouse), the tale is a belated coming-of-age story – of Fräulein Else's sudden realization that her father is a fraud, her mother his compatriot, and her their pawn.

While vacationing in the Italian Alps with her well-off cousins, young Fräulein Else, all of 19, gets a letter from her mother informing her that her father needs an immediate transfusion of funds to stave off being jailed for indebtedness. And the letter also suggests approaching a certain acquaintance staying at the same spa – an older, lecherous acquaintance who already makes Else uncomfortable with his way of looking at her.

Uncle Vanya
Francesca Faridany as Fräulein Else.
Else reluctantly approaches the wealthy Herr Von Dorsday and makes the request – only to learn to her horror that he had previously made a loan to her father, which was never repaid.

And so Von Dorsday suggests a trade rather than a loan – in exchange for the money to keep her father out of jail, Else will let Von Dorsday look at her naked for a half-hour.

Admittedly, in the age of "Sex in the City," such a request might seem rather benign. And it's doubtful that Springer Nation will find much to shock or titillate in this mild request. Truth be told, we live in an age when Faridany can actually strip on stage in preparation for her meeting with Von Dorsday and no one bats an eye.

But Faridany and her director/husband, Stephen Wadsworth, have done such a splendid job of setting up the scene – of putting us in Else's head, with her values, expectations, dreams and fears – that Von Dorsday's request does seem ribald, indecent even.

Because of this, the tragedy that follows seems neither overwrought nor unexpected – just very sad because of the choices that precipitated it.

Julian López-Morillas is quite good as the dirty old Herr Von Dorsday, a man who knows his request is repugnant, who is probably a bit repelled by it himself, yet who cannot resist the temptation of young flesh. The rest of the cast is competent, but the roles are mostly scenery, so there is little to say about them.

This production works so well because of the performance of Faridany – if quite a bit older than her character, Faridany is very effective at projecting both the innocence of youth, and its bitter loss.

Jim Trageser is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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