The Blue Room at Nearly Naked Theatre

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Arthur Schnitzler was both a doctor and a playwright (as was Anton Chekhov) in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna. His play Reigen, most commonly known as La Ronde, is about a lot of things, but it's partly about how easy it is to spread syphilis.

Demonstrating that lesson involves a lot of sexual promiscuity, though, and Reigen's series of spontaneous, casual couplings was a bit too lifelike for public consumption. The script was censored in print for a time in Austria and was not performed in public for decades.

Eventually, however, the funny/sad/raunchy La Ronde became ultra-popular, lending its structure to many adaptations over the years, including David Hare's 1998 version, The Blue Room, currently being presented in its Arizona première by Nearly Naked Theatre.

Set in the present, The Blue Room has 10 short scenes (no intermission) in which two people talk a little, have some sex, and then at least one of them feels really crappy about it. You can see the comic potential there, and it's fully realized.

Each scene features one character from the previous scene with a new partner (except the first scene, obviously).

Hare's innovation was to have the same two people play all the parts. That's five each. It creates a virtuosity showcase, and the Phoenix stars, Andréa Morales and William Jones, are as up to the challenge as anyone I can think of, and look smokin' hot with no clothes at all, several times.

Between scenes (given an impressive amount of visual detail by Eric Beeck), Morales and Jones change costumes behind a backlit screen, casting frantic, contorted shadows , while a soundtrack of club hits keeps us in the mood. Never a dull moment in this one, thanks to the show's fun-loving and skillful veteran director, NNT artistic director Damon Dering.

I imagine that in some productions, La Ronde seems light and frivolous, seeming to merely make fun of the human illusion that the ideal romantic relationship will transform everything and make life a fulfilling journey of massive significance.

But inherent in the script, and central to The Blue Room in particular, is the harsh denial of that hope.

This version focuses on male-female relationships, and whether you think the female characters get the more flattering depictions (no one here is exactly a picnic) probably depends on your worldview and experiences before you get to the theater. Sure, the women get exploited, as in real life, but they're also wiser and more resilient; they understand men much better than the men understand, well, anything, but they use that information to play these fellas like ukuleles (Mega-Trendy Zeitgeist Reference FTW).

Between the sexual politics and the seesaw of societal roles, the balance of power between characters shifts sometimes several times in a single scene, let alone when another character is introduced.

Morales, partly because she gets to portray the ladies but mostly because she's a knockout performer, really finesses these movements in the service of the play.

Jones is clearly still growing as an actor (which has been a privilege and a treat to observe this season), but he hits no false notes here as he extends his range -- particularly as a starving, egomaniacal poseur of a playwright who's in over his head with an 18-year-old party girl (and hysterically unaware of it) and a loony prima donna actress (and helplessly frustrated by it).

The Blue Room continues through Saturday, March 26, in the Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre , 100 East McDowell Road. For tickets, $22 to $25, click here or call 602-254-2151.

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