On the surface, Jean Anouilh's "Ring Round the Moon," now playing at Catholic University's Hartke Theater, is put together like a Noel Coward weekend of merry antics between the sexes at an aristocratic French country house.
The comedy, though, is spiked with occasinal concerns about what-it-a what-it-all-means that hardly would have crossed the socially anesthetized consciences of Coward's dapper ladies and gentlemen.
That difference constitutes the Gallic touch, in which the comedy of manners is not just a comedy of manners. And by obscuring the distinction, the Catholic University production was conceptually flawed from the beginning. The actors play Anouilh like British comedy, Mock-British accents and all, with the conflict of ideas utterly subordinated to the conflict of characters.
Taken even on these terms, however, the production is only intermittently successfuly, as viewed Tuesday night.
The play is a work built of such comic conventions as mistaken identity of identical twins, a rich old aunt manipulating the destinies of her heirs, and a gala ball at which the personality masks of the principals are exposed.
Whether British, French or Eurasian, comedic characters created as foils to each other must react quickly and decisively to plot surprises that propel them along. Here the reactions are more often slow and vague; thus the plot trots along, leaving its points far behind.
This is all the more unfortunate because of the talented comic actor assuming the backbreaking central role of both twins -- as Anouilh intended. Anthony Risoli is on stage most of the time, and he must change character during each break.
Risoli's Hugo, the crass, manipulative brother, comes off with more authority than Frederic, his languorous counterpart. But Risoli knows how to play his two characters against each other, which is more than director Joseph Lewis manages to do with most of the others. Another good performance comes from Constance Geis as the pushy mother of one of the female foils for the twins.
The adaption of the 1947 play is by English playwright Christopher Fry, whose translations led to much of the popularity in this country of French drama in the '50's and early '60's.
The play with continue Tuesdays through Sundays until Oct. 28, with matinees on Sundays.