Dead ringers

Ring Round the Moon at Barrington Stage; Double Double at Williamstown
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  August 22, 2006


RING ROUND THE MOON: Isabelle with Frederic — or is it Hugo?
The Doublemint Twins in The Parent Trap would not be out of place on Berkshires stages this week. Barrington Stage Company inaugurates its newly restored 1912 Pittsfield theater with Ring Round the Moon (through August 27), Christopher Fry’s 1950 adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s 1947 pièce brillante L’invitation au château, in which identical twins, one a confirmed cynic, the other a mooning romantic, work their way through a weekend at their aristocratic aunt’s château in the south of France. And Williamstown Theatre Festival presents artistic director Roger Rees & Rick Elice’s tightly twisted 1986 comedy thriller Double Double (through August 27), which hangs on a plotted mistaken identity. A gossamer aura of bitter longing hovers over the first; the ghost of Macbeth floats over the second.

Tony-winning actor Carole Shelley, who played Lady Bracknell in last summer’s Barrington Stage production of The Importance of Being Earnest, suggested the rarely revived Ring Round the Moon to director Julianne Boyd, and it’s easy to see why. As elegantly dyspeptic, wheelchair-bound Madame Desmermortes, pronouncing on the pretentious or deluded pursuits of her guests, she gets to exhibit all the imperiousness of Lady B without even bothering to ambulate. And whether giving her plain-Jane companion orders to “trundle me, dear, trundle, trundle” or recalling the glamor and heartlessness of the good old days, she exudes a delicious, distracted hauteur that defies the broadness of some of the other performances. But Earnest is a perfect gem, the glittering Ring more of a rhinestone.

A fairy-tale consideration of emotional truth and carefully crafted illusion (“Proof,” opines the hardened brother, “means nothing if no one believes it”), untarnished innocence and jaded sophistication, the comedy pits Isabelle — a beautiful, Cinderella-like ballet dancer invited to a ball by the anti-romantic Hugo to cure his susceptible twin, Frederic, of an infatuation with a wealthy beauty who doesn’t love him — against a worldly iceberg of a gentry of which Hugo is merely the tip. But Anouilh is no more philosophizing George Bernard Shaw than he is epigram-spewing Oscar Wilde. His Ring Round the Moon is perilously French in its playful, ironic, hard-to-conjure tone. The plot is at once complicated and almost non-existent: Hugo acts as a sort of theater director, engineering an evening he hopes will draw Frederic to Isabelle, whom he has beautifully costumed and placed center stage, thus quashing his sib’s sighing, suffering love for Diana, who is engaged to Frederic but pines for Hugo. Things go awry, of course, as the ball lingers on into the wee hours. It turns out Isabelle also thinks she loves Hugo and threatens to drown herself over it. In the end it takes Madame Desmermortes to sort out the couples hard and soft. Meanwhile, Patrice Bombelles and Lady Dorothy India, illicit lovers, grow sick of each other, and Diana’s dad, the unhappily rich Messerschmann, grows sick of his money. It’s all very redolent of A Little Night Music with less rue and no Sondheim.

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