Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Ring Round the Moon
The Nevada Conservatory Theatre's first live production since the onset of the pandemic is Ring Round the Moon, Christopher Fry's English adaptation of Jean Anouilh's 1947 comedy L'Invitation au chateau. The play itself is an odd duck. It wants to be both a farce and a morality play, but succeeds as neither. While it may have suited the theatrical tastes of its time, today it struggles to justify its 2-3/4 hour running time.
All of this makes it a challengingindeed, puzzlingchoice for NCT. It would take some top-notch comedic performers to overcome the play's flaws. (Case in point: Margaret Rutherford starred in the original London production.) However, judging by this relatively young ensemble, NCT simply did not have access to that kind of seasoned talent. Director Kymberly Mellen therefore faced the formidable task of staging a problematic play with less-than-optimal resources.
Another challenge is that the play is rather static. Most of the action takes place offstagedancing and flirtations in the unseen ballroom, a character's repeated escapes from her locked bedroom, and a near-drowning in the estate's private lake. Director Mellen overcomes this challenge effectively, introducing movement wherever possible. Characters circle about each other and move back and forth between the two levels of the playing area, lovers engaged in a clandestine affair punctuate their conversations with flirtatious voguing, and various servants wheel Madame Desmortes about in her (charmingly recreated) vintage wheelchair. The back-to-back exits and entrances of identical twins played by a single actor are flawlessly timed. There are also several larger (and much needed) dynamic breakouts, including two long-lost friends breaking into a song-and-dance, a girl-fight worthy of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and, in the evening's best eye-candy moment, the entire contingent of beautifully dressed party guests dancing out of the ballroom and onto the stage. The latter scene is especially well staged, with the large ensemble whirling gracefully around the two-level space with nary a misstep or collision. It probably took a lot of work to make this seem so effortless.
The breakout stars of this production are the spectacular set and costume designs. Every inch of William Appel's set is painted in a dazzling array of colors and patternincluding the floorand enormous stained-glass windows dominate the upstage wall. The lanterns that magically descend for the party scenes are another nice touch. ArianMarie Moye's period costumes (pre-WWI) are beautifully stylish, from everyday wear to the most glamorous formal attire. Costumes of this caliber would be at home on a Broadway stage.
Jasmin Garcia's lighting design is effective at highlighting all of these visual elements and at controlling when and whom the audience can see lurking outside the upstage windows. An excess of purple lighting, however, causes the elderly Madame Desmortes' hair to take on an unnatural hue, giving new meaning to the concept of the "blue haired lady."
The actors' interaction with the scenery is occasionally confusing. The play takes place in a chateau's "winter garden"a type of conservatory. The windows, doors and furnishings confirm that the main level of the stage depicts an indoor space, while the 18-inch drop down to the paved walkway and garden benches along the apron suggests that the latter is an outdoor space. Yet characters on several occasions step directly from the interior room into the outdoor space, or even sit on the drop-off, without ever bothering to use the stairs on either side (presumably where the doors would be), thus making it seem that they have magically transported themselves through the fourth wall. While wall-smashing can be an effective way to make a point (as in Eliza's final exit in Lincoln Center's My Fair Lady), here it is simply distracting. On another occasion, the butler carefully shuts one French door, but inexplicably leaves its companion wide open. And when another servant is asked to look outside, she peers through a semi-opaque window rather than the open door just a few inches away.
While the cast is capable, their skills are not sufficient to overcome the play's inherent flaws, including the authors' failure to give us characters we can care about. Because the audience is not emotionally invested, it feels like nothing is at stake. It's like seeing act two of Into the Woods without having seen act one. It doesn't help that the three couples who make up the play's romantic storylines have zero chemistry. There's also the creepiness factor: a middle-aged "patron of the arts" lusting after a young ballerina just doesn't play in 2021 the way it might have in 1947.
For the most part, the actors portraying the oldest characters are unconvincing. Except for a single white wig, little attention has been paid to design elements that would alter their appearance. And, with one exception, the actors fail to convey their characters' advancing age through voice or manner. The laudable exception is Ryan Ruckman as the wealthy but disillusioned Messerschmann; he consistently speaks and moves as a much older man, even absent-mindedly rubbing an aching limb while deep in conversation. He could easily have wandered in from a Chekhov play.
In addition to Ruckman, other standouts include Deseree Whitt, whose stage presence nearly steals the show as the ballerina's high-spirited but impecunious (and, sadly, nameless) working class mother, and Luke Halferty, who effectively differentiates the polar-opposite personalities of identical twins Hugo and Frederic. Unfortunately the conniving Hugo just isn't exciting enough to win the audience vote for favorite bad-boy, and the much nicer Frederic comes across as more sad sack than sweetheart.
In the absence of any romantic chemistry elsewhere in the cast of characters, this reviewer found herself desperately hoping that the two most compelling charactersWhitt's indefatigable mother and Ruckman's depressed industrialistwould fall into each other's arms in the final act, a la chocolate and peanut butter. Sadly, the playwrights had other plans. Hollywood, where are you when we need you?
Ring Round the Moon has closed. The Nevada Conservatory Theatre's next production is Little Shop of Horrors, running December 3-12, 2021. For tickets or further information, go to unlv.edu/nct/season-info.