Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MARCH 12, 2010
Ooh la la ! Hold onto your chapeau. In a frenetic French satire, you’d better listen up if you want to keep track of who beats, beds or bamboozles whom. “ Écoutez bien !
It all starts with a patrician pair of identical twins. Hugo is a heartless, amoral, manipulative playboy, while Frederic is a decent, sensitive, milquetoast. Frederic loves Diana, the spoiled, rich-bitch daughter of a self-made billionaire with a fiery young mistress who’s having an affair with the businessman’s private secretary. Vicious rich-girl Diana is engaged to the nice twin, Frederic, but she really loves his nasty brother, Hugo. Hugo decides to derail the engagement, since he loves Diana but doesn’t really know it yet, believing himself incapable of any positive emotion. So, Hugo contrives an intricate plot. He hires a lowly but lovely dancer from the Paris Opera and transforms her, “My Fair Lady” style, into an aristocratic beauty, the belle of a ball thrown by the twins’ imperious, devious, wealthy and wheelchair-bound aunt. Isabelle, the dancer, arrives with her loquacious, pretentious mother in tow, as well as a middle-aged roué who has been directed by Hugo to claim Isabelle as his niece, though he’d prefer that she be his mistress. When the snooty aunt gets wind of Hugo’s scheme, she starts to pull a few manipulative strings of her own. And voilà ! L’amour triumphs in the end. Whew. Got all that?
It all becomes hilariously clear in the fast-paced, 3-act, class-conscious satire, “Ring Round the Moon,” by Jean Anouilh, best known for his 1964 play, “Becket,” which was made into a stunning movie with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. “Ring Round the Moon” came a lot earlier, in 1947 and it manages to remain as wacky, madcap, acerbic and sophisticated a period piece as it was half a century ago.
What the whip-fast comedy demands is crackerjack timing and a stellar cast, since every one of the dozen or so characters is a polished little gem.
Moonlight Stage delivers a shimmering jewel of a production. Jason Heil’s sharp-edged direction sparkles, and the ensemble is scintillating, headed by Howard Bickle as the two wildly disparate brothers who make such rapid and imaginative exits and entrances, you almost believe they actually can be in the same place at the same time.
In a lovely winter garden, on a magical, moonlit spring night, fantasies, hypocrisies, busybodies, subterfuge, secrets and spilled beans abound. The forces of goodness and innocence are pitted against the calculated malevolence of people who take sport in controlling the lives of others, simply because they have the power or purse-strings to do so.
This is one delicious confection, flavored with a hint of spice and a soupçon of strychnine, served up as enchantment and romance. Bon appétit!
“Ring Round the Moon” runs through March 21 at the Avo Theatre in Vista .
©2010 PAT LAUNER