Anatol bed-hops his way through 19th-century Vienna like a fin-de-siecle Mac Daddy in top hat and tails.
Arthur Schnitzler's first drama spins around this upper-class playboy, who waltzes from one tryst to another in Vienna's decadent high society. But though the play is handsomely staged by Aurora Theatre Company founder Barbara Oliver, the central character just isn't compelling enough to make this romp as funny as intended. Stylish but stilted, the insubstantial period piece doesn't quite hold together in this Aurora revival.
Fancying himself irresistible, Anatol (Mike Ryan) flits from one conquest to the next as if women were party favors. The fickle lothario relishes the chase but quickly tires of the courtship.
He soon invents a reason why none of the women is worthy of the perfect love he envisions. Ironically, it is the women who quickly get the upper hand in this series of loosely connected, racy vignettes, translated by Margret Schaefer.
In one sequence, Anatol leaves one woman's bed to take another to the altar. In another, he hypnotizes his mistress to make sure she's not cheating on him (the way he is on her).
At one point, the clueless Casanova woos two women at once, rushing through two suppers and two rendezvous every night, until he is too tired to keep making the rounds.
So he carefully stages his breakup with the ballet dancer (Delia MacDougall) he is dating, only to realize that she has been two-timing him with a member of the corps de ballet. Still, she immediately mourns her loss of the good life, since the well-heeled Anatol serves the best Champagne and oysters in town.
The trouble with the play is that Anatol is little more than a playboy with a fat wallet and thin imagination. Although Ryan (a Shakespeare Santa Cruz veteran) gilds this deluded Don Juan with a certain appealing naiveté, so that he seems to believe his own prattle, there is hardly any depth to the insufferable fellow. He may be "a frivolous melancholic," but his few moments of doubt and regret seem like grandstanding. You never believe he is capable of loving anyone, not even himself.
Unfortunately, if we don't care about the title character, it's impossible to follow his amorous adventures with interest. By the time he has seduced his way through a few boudoirs, the plot has lost its punch. To be sure, the play's frank, once-shocking sexuality now seems tame.
It is perversely gratifying that the women here, all bit characters, steal the show. MacDougall, who starred in the company revival of "Sex," rivets as part of the cavalcade strutting through Anatol's bed chamber. And each, from the brassy circus performer to the theater diva, emerges as a believable individual.
Tim Kniffin ("Trouble in Mind") masters the art of the dry retort as Anatol's buddy, Max. The ultimate wing man, Max seems to have nothing better to do than to narrate Anatol's love life, but he does that with great finesse.
Still, these glints of wit aren't enough to make this "Anatol" shine. Certainly the genius of Schnitzler's commentary (most famously in "La Ronde") springs distinctly from his own time and place, and yet fully captures the moral and class-based dilemmas of our own culture. Those echoes are all but lost amid "Anatol's" parade of petty dalliances.
By Arthur Schnitzler, translated by Margret Schaefer
Through: May 13
Where: Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison St., Berkeley
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Tickets: $30-$48, 510-843-4822, www.auroratheatre.org