'Ring Round the Moon'

Tennyson wrote: "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." And so it is in Jean Anouilh's play "Ring Round the Moon" that Southern Oregon University Department of Theatre Arts is now presenting in its Center Stage.

This play, originally entitled "L'Invitation au Chateau," appeared in 1947 and was translated and adapted by British poet Christopher Fry ("The Lady's Not for Burning") and produced in London in January 1950 with a cast that included Margaret Rutherford, Claire Bloom, Paul Schofield and Denholm Elliott. Oliver Messel devised an appropriately elegant and romantic set of a conservatory in a winter garden in France in spring. It opened in New York in November l950 and was staged by Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1980.

Just as Shakespeare has sport with the Dromio twins in "The Comedy of Errors," so the French dramatist offers his twin spin, namely, that one actor plays both roles, so that the twain never meet. Frederic is lovelorn and gentle, Hugo mean and manipulative. There's a whole lot of love in the play but little between the twins.

In fact, Frederic (Sam Ashdown) is in love with Dianna Messerschmann (Jordan Leigh Wakefield), daughter of a melancholy millionaire, though she really is secretly in love with Hugo (Sam Ashdown), the young man about town. In hope of distracting his brother, Hugo brings a lovely ballet dancer to a ball being held at the villa. She is Isabella (Monique Barbee) and palmed off as niece of Romainville (Jonathan Dyrud), a lepidopterist and patron of the arts. She is an undoubted success, is paid a fee and gets to keep the special dress (Deborah Rosenberg is the play's costume designer). But complications ensue.

The complex plot introduces other characters: Lady India (Juliana Rose Slemenda), Messerschmann's mistress who is secretly in love with Patrice Bombelles (Nicholas Ferrucci), Messerschmann's secretive secretary; Isabella's mother (Danielle Chaves), a pianoforte teacher; and Madame Desmortes (Ashley Bragg), the aristocratic aunt of the twins and Lady India, with her faded companion Capulet (Tara Watkins).

Messerschmann (Robert Chikar) obviously is tied into the plot, and on hand throughout is the butler Joshua (James O'Hanlon). Genevieve (Elsbeth Poe), the housemaid and Marcel (Jeremy Vandroff), a servant delight with their attempts at love-making. He also, as a general, proves to be an energetic hoofer. The choreography in the play is in the excellent hands of Suzanne Seiber.

Sean O'Shea's scenic design of a villa conservatory is enchantingly resplendent, with its marble, shrubs climbing the walls and white garden furniture. The large windows at the back are set off with a parade of potted plants. The whole has a French "feel" to it that is enhanced by the lighting design of Maxwell Bowman.

Guest artist and adjunct faculty member David Kelly, whose forte as actor is comedy, has delighted audiences in 17 seasons at OSF. Here he directs, setting the play in 1936, just before the Nazis were coming to power in Europe as, he says, "It captures the last moment of innocence before Europe is engulfed in 'the fire from heaven.'"

There is much to enjoy in this production. Sam Ashdown artfully doubles in the dual roles of Frederic and Hugo, though I feel that as Hugo he is overly loud at times and speaks too fast. I commend Ashleigh Bragg as the aristocratic Madame Desmortes for all the wisdom she dispenses from her wheelchair, and perhaps my favorite is the butler of James O'Hanlon. He certainly cuts a commanding figure. And there is depth to Monique Barbee's portrayal of the ballet dancer, especially when, after having succeeded in her mission, she poignantly asks Hugo: "What happens to me?" And again, "What becomes of me?"

"Ring Round the Moon" plays at 8 p.m. on Nov. 20-23, with matinees at 2 p.m. on Nov. 22 and 23. Call 552-6348 for tickets.

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