French Twists

Now if only the lovers were as romantically appealing as this eccentric trio. But Gutierrez has apparently been too wrapped up in their physical antics to give much thought to their emotional life. Toby Stephens, busily differentiating the twins, almost forgets to fall in love twice over. Of the others, only Gretchen Egolf, as the bait in Hugo's trap, has a sense of romance and repose to match her beauty— until her two big scenes, in which she yells and yowls like any modern teen. Am I alone in thinking that Cinderella, at the ball, never yowled? I also suspect that few French winter gardens, in 1912, had asymmetrical staircases on which tangos were danced. But all this is far from the main point, which is that this author's name is pronounced ah-NOO-yuh, while almost everything else on Broadway now is pronounced "ennui."

Off-Broadway there's no ennui, just a certain degree of confusion, engendered by John Guare's Lake Hollywood, a play as eccentrically built as the schemes of Ring Round the Moon's characters. Its second half, allegedly set in "the present," began 33 years ago as a one-act called Something I'll Tell You Tuesday. The first act, written more recently, is a prequel set in 1940, in which the early play's old couple, a Manhattan building super and his wife, appear as a young pair, out to meet her horrific family in New Hampshire; the actors playing Act One's young couple reappear in Act Two as the old couple's daughter and son-in-law.

Ring Round the Moon: glitter at the end of a gray season
Carol Rosegg
Ring Round the Moon: glitter at the end of a gray season

Details

Ring Round the Moon
By Jean Anouilh
Translated by Christopher Fry
Belasco Theatre
Sixth Avenue and 44th Street
239-6200

Lake Hollywood
By John Guare
Signature Theatre
555 West 42nd Street
244-7529

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Is everything perfectly unclear? Don't worry about it. As so often with Guare in his more-capricious moods, the structure isn't the point; the two acts are excuses for each other that barely make sense together. (It's impossible, for instance, to imagine the young man we see in 1940 living through the postwar boom to end up as a building super in the 1990s.) The first piece is farcical, with eerie overtones; the second is wistful, with a sardonic edge. Both are wonderfully wordsmithed: The lines fall in typically Guare-ian loops and whorls, the improbabilities pile up till some unexpected chime of reality calls them to a halt. The directors, Doug Hughes and Itamar Kubovy, keep a game cast scampering busily through the dottiness, taking a somber moment every so often as if they wanted to be sure you knew this was art. I'd advise disregarding these public service announcements; let the foolery wash over you and you'll have a good time. You may even discover some point to the enterprise. For me its chief value, beyond ear-tickling, rests in the chance it gives Kate Burton and Betty Miller, as the heroine young and old. People talk about the "core of feeling" in a play; this one has a core of heartfelt acting, throbbing with life no matter how hollow the glittery script gets.

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