A mannered manor

Upstart Crow’s latest takes aim at the upper crust

Gary Zeidner | Boulder Weekly

It`s not often that I reach for the Bible when trying to wrap my mind around a theatrical experience. Sports metaphors? Sure. Pop culture references? Naturally. But the Bible, not so much. Yet after taking in the opening night performance of the Upstart Crow Theatre Company’s Ring Round The Moon, my thoughts turned immediately to the dangers of building one’s house on sand.

The dedicated members of the Upstart Crow company do, for the most part, everything they can to make Ring Round The Moon the airy comedy it purports to be. Using the diminutive performance space to its utmost, set designer Joseph Illingsworth keeps it simple while accommodating the many entrances and exits the play requires. The costumes by Joan Kuder Bell serve even more than the set to create the illusion of an early 20th Century French chateau. The acting, even when it falls short, as it does in the case of a few cast members, is always energetic.

Despite all of these efforts, Ring Round The Moon remains oddly inert. Perhaps sometimes the play is not the thing? It seems to me that the Upstart Crow’s only serious mistake with their current production was their choice of play to perform. Written by Jean Anouilh and adapted by Christopher Fry, Ring Round The Moon seeks to poke fun at the eccentricities of the upper class, but it undercuts itself with a very obvious envy of the world of butlers and blue bloods. It is meant to gambol along from scene to scene and scheme to scheme, its feet hardly touching the ground, but erratic pacing and sketchily drawn characters give it leaden boots to wear and make its twoand-a-half hours seem longer still.

Your gut instinct might be to blame the French, but in this case at least, they are not at fault. After all, Anouilh wrote Ring Round The Moon a mere three years after Sartre gave us No Exit, a masterpiece that is simpler, more effortless and wildly more entertaining. Perhaps Anouilh’s work suffered more in translation than Sartre’s? Or maybe Anouilh just wasn’t the playwright that Jean-Paul was?

Spanning the course of an all night ball thrown at the palatial estate of Madame Desmortes (Prema Rose), Ring Round The Moon concerns itself almost entirely with the efforts of Madame Desmortes’ nephew, Hugo (Daniel Seifert), to break the engagement of his twin brother, Frederick (also Daniel Seifert). Though Hugo is introduced and played throughout as a cad focused mostly on his own entertainment, his plan arises out of an almost noble fear that Frederick will end up in a loveless marriage.

Hugo intends for Frederick to fall for Isabelle (Kate Moreland), a poor ballet dancer he’s passing off as a member of the landed gentry. For his plan to work, Hugo must maintain the ruse of Isabelle’s identity, make her the belle of the ball and keep her overly loquacious mother away from the party — despite her overwhelming desire to attend. If that were not enough, Hugo has multiple other characters to manage and manipulate, and he finds that his pawn Isabelle has fallen in love with him and has no interest whatsoever in pretending to have feelings for Frederick.

The blessedly few mistaken identity scenes involving Hugo and Frederick are staged purely for laughs and have no impact on the story or its outcome. So, really, the fact that they are twins is largely superfluous, but as that is how Anouilh wanted it, that’s the way it is. Failing the casting coupe of actual twins to play the roles, the whole production turns on the single actor and his ability to switch convincingly between Hugo’s swagger and Frederick’s slouch. Thankfully, Seifert is up to the task. The only time the invisible line between the two roles blurred for a moment was toward the end of the play when even the play itself was poking fun at the twins contrivance.

While Seifert is solid — and Rose spouts her many witticisms wonderfully — the best performance, and frankly, the best thing about Ring Round The Moon, is Kate Moreland’s Isabelle. A relative newcomer to theatre, Moreland is far and away the most natural actor on stage, and she exhibits remarkable emotional range despite playing an underwritten character. I will be very interested to see what she can do with a better role in a better play somewhere down the line.

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On the Bill

Ring Round The Moon runs through May 22nd at the Dairy Center for the Arts.

Tickets start at $17. 2590 Walnut Street in Boulder, 303- 442-1415, www.theupstartcrow.org.