PITTSFIELD -- After a summer of transience and renovations, Barrington Stage Company has finally settled into its handsome new home, a former vaudeville palace in downtown Pittsfield. Artistic director Julianne Boyd celebrates the housewarming with a glittering French house party, Jean Anouilh's ``Ring Round the Moon."
Boyd chose the play at the suggestion of Carole Shelley, who enjoyed playing Lady Bracknell in Barrington's 2005 ``The Importance of Being Earnest" so much that she was eager to find another effervescent vessel for at least some of that cast. So Shelley returns as Madame Desmermortes, and Christopher Innvar once again plays Shelley's nephew -- or, this time, two nephews, the sweetly naive Frederic and his evil twin, Hugo.
The rest of the plot is about as silly as that device suggests, but, as usual with Anouilh, there's a dark edge to the silliness as well. On the surface it's a farcical comedy of tangled love and social climbing; you don't have to dig deep, though, to find a bitter vein of fury at the corrupting power of wealth and the cruelty of those who have too much of it.
Perhaps it's that bitterness that has kept Anouilh from being produced more often in this country. Americans like farce and social commentary well enough but prefer to keep them unmixed.
A more intrinsic problem with ``Ring Round the Moon" is its heavily expository first act. The audience is so busy trying to keep track of the various characters and their complex relationships that some of the funniest lines have flown by before they register.
Boyd does her best to keep the bubbles rising by having the actors race through that heavy first hour. The result, unfortunately, is that the pace feels at once too slow and too fast. But things improve as the plot finds a predictable groove, leaving us free to enjoy the absurdity of the characters.
Innvar is especially delightful in the virtuosic double role of the twins: His Hugo is bold and crafty, his Frederic cowering and mild. Most of the fun comes from seeing him dash out one door, then creep in another, or vice versa. He and Boyd deftly handle the various tricks Anouilh employs to keep the illusion going, even as they let us know they know we're in on the joke.
Shelley laps up the imperious cynicism of Madame Desmermortes, and Tandy Cronyn is suitably mousy as her spinsterish companion. Everyone else is fine, though Debra Jo Rupp, as the status-obsessed mother of Ginifer King's Cinderella-like ingenue, seems to have wandered in from another play -- one taking place in contemporary Brooklyn, not France between the wars.
Christopher Fry's translation further muddies the ethnic waters with its intrusive Britishisms. And it's hard to say whether Fry's decision to turn Anouilh's original five acts into three helps or hurts; it seems as if trimming, not reorganizing, is what this piece most needs.
Still, it's a pleasant enough opening to a new chapter in Barrington Stage's life. And Karl Eigsti's airily elegant set, a fern-filled conservatory, shows the stage's capacities to great effect. The rest of the creative team's work, particularly Elizabeth Flauto's dazzling flapper costumes and Stephen Terrell's delightfully comic choreography, is at the company's usual high level.
``Ring Round the Moon" may not be Barrington's best work ever. But that only speaks to the high bar the company has set for itself in the past decade -- and the high hopes we can have, now that it has found a permanent home.