After the ball is over

Beth Hornby

Noodles without butter and salt-not the type of food that one might imagine a wealthy man in 1950’s France to insist on eating day after day. By consuming such oodles of noodles, Messerschmann, a supporting character in the Jean Anouilh play Ring Round the Moon might actually be communicating an insightful social statement. It is not as though he can’t afford to dine on the most succulent foods; Rather, the riches that his money can bring him do not give him any joy. By comparison, I have different reasons for postponing this odd high-carbo, low-protein diet regime (something of a Dr. Atkin’s-in-reverse, isn’t it?): Yes, the rent must be paid and mac and cheese never gets old. However, dry funds are nothing to complain about-at least this is the message that I got from the University Theater’s presentation of Ring Round the Moon. This quirky little play exemplifies that love makes life rich while money doesn’t buy happiness.

This play has all of the elements for an entertaining evening: love, humor and the occasional slap between friends. Nothing overly elaborate, the scene is set in an intimate winter garden where twinkley lights cling to ivy-covered stairs and delicate rice paper lanterns illuminate this haphazard family affair.

During the production I attended, I felt as though I were let in on a little secret from the start. Twin brothers Hugo and Frederic (both played by Kristopher Lencowski) are vying for the love of Diana, a self-absorbed gold-digger, here played by Jillia Marie Pessenda. Hugo, the seemingly heartless of the brothers, knows of Diana’s true nature and plans a grand scheme to break off her engagement with his brother Frederic. Not out of compassion, mind you, but rather for his own amusement. Frederic, selfless and meek, is blithely unaware of Diana’s baser motives.

Lencowski has prince-charming good looks and wicked humor-a highlight of the play. He is blind to the obvious affections of Isabelle, played by Lindsay Hinman, whose gentle manner and cherubic features bring a fairy tale sparkle to the stage. Isabelle is a dancer, hired to capture the heart of Frederic, and behind her pretty face she’s a street-smart woman that clings to her values and speaks her mind.

I particularly enjoyed Jessica Dawn Schoper’s portrayal of a spunky, charming and wrinkly aunt, Madame Desmortes, whose glory days have long past. Although bound to a wheelchair and dependent on her helpers to get around, the aunt is certainly not an invalid in any sense, made obvious by the fact that she actively participates in all of the affairs of the house.

The energy with which the actors deliver their lines wet my pallet with a quenchable thirst for more juicy scandal. The real fun begins when Hugo’s plans run through the gossip mill of an elaborate ball, the sounds of which pour onto the stage throughout the production. The play’s grand schemes and wicked conspirations mingle and begin to spiral downward, with one hilarious mishap after another. All of this calls to mind John Cleese’s popular Faulty Towers, as Anouihl’s story grows increasingly-even exponentially-hilarious as the scenes unfold, until Hugo’s grand scheme is left in shambles. (Perhaps I made this connection to the BBC comedy simply because I was confused as to why most of the characters were conversing in false British accents when it is supposed to take place in France.) In any case, it is not all fun and games: Lessons are learnt and, of course, some hearts are broken.

 

On opening night, following the production, all audience members were invited to attend a ball in the lower level of the Rarig Center. It was an opportunity to meet with anyone that had a hand in the play, such as director Peter Rothstein. And if you were daring enough, the Twin Cities Ballroom Dance Club was available, demonstrating to guests how to jump and jive to the likes of the Brian Seitzer Orchestra.

Among other things, Rothstein is an artistic associate director with the Illusion Theater and an artistic director at Theater Latte Da. As well, his production of The Rink is currently playing at the Loring playhouse. This is the first time that he has collaborated with the University, offering his vast experience in teaching and directing for the stage. If you want to catch this production by the University of Minnesota Department of Theater Arts and Dance, head on over to the Rarig Center on the West Bank.

It is a show for all ages. The giggles and squirms of anticipation that exuded from the kids behind-adolescents, all of them, most bussed in for a social services program-should be proof enough of whether or not they appreciated the humor as much as I did. Need further proof? After the show, they asked for autographs.

 

Ring Round the Moon plays through October 21 at the Rarig Center, (612) 625-4001.