Anatol at the Aurora

Anatol at the Aurora was terrific. Mike Ryan is both adorable and exasperating as Anatol — he made me believe that women would keep falling in love with Anatol and also made me believe that women would keep breaking up with him. Tim Kniffin as Max is funny and quite a bit more acid than I’ve imagined Max to be when I’ve read the play.

Delia MacDougall is really brilliant and often hilarious as six of Anatol’s lovers — a different one in each scene. Her performance is partly a tour de force and partly a quick-change stunt, and I’m not sure that in my ideal production I wouldn’t rather see two or three women splitting the roles, but she pulls off the six roles with great style and assurance.

She’s especially touching as an former lover of Anatol’s in a chance encounter on Christmas Eve, and especially hilarious as a ballerina eagerly wolfing down the expensive after-performance supper of oysters and champagne and Sacher torte that Anatol is buying her, determined to enjoy it even though the two of them are quarreling all through the meal, for she knows that the relationship is ending and that it will probably be her last fancy supper for a long time, and she can’t bear not to savor it.

Barbara Oliver’s staging is lovely, inventive and lively, but at the same time simple and direct. (I was misremembering before, though, when I said she directed that wonderful Vanya — welcome to late middle age, Scott. She was in it but did not direct it.)

Seeing the play in performance for my first time, I found that some parts of it seemed fairly facile to me again, just as the whole play had when I first read it in college. While I like the play much better now than I did in college, I can see why I felt the way I did. Some of it is predictable stuff. The first scene in particular seems that way to me, taking a fair amount of time to reach a conclusion that is telegraphed early on, and I think it gets the play off to a weak start.

But along with the sometimes-too-pat plotting is a lot of wonderful insight into a character who is maddingly, hilariously oblivious to his own nature and how he sabotages himself in his relationships with women.

The play is in seven unconnected vignettes; in this production one is dropped and the order of the others is slightly changed — probably in large part to make Ms. MacDougall’s changes of costume and character more manageable. Nothing wrong with any of that, but as long as they were switching things around, I do kind of wish that they’d dropped the first vignette instead. The vignette they don’t use involves Anatol’s affair with a married woman, and to me it has a bracing bleakness to it — on the page, anyway — that the other scenes don’t have, even the bittersweet Christmas Eve scene, and it makes an affecting contrast with the comedy of most of the scenes.

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