An eccentric band of characters — twin brothers, a millionaire, his mistress, her lover, a wise woman, her romance-smitten attendant and a dancer — are on the hunt for love and happiness in “Ring Round the Moon.” The charming classic, written by Jean Anouilh and adapted by Christopher Fry, is brought to riveting life at the UH School of Theatre & Dance (SoTD) under the direction of Jack Young, head of UH’s graduate-level Professional Actor Training Program.
Learn more about the playwright’s life and inspirations in the dramaturgy note below!
“Ring Round the Moon” Dramaturgy Note by Logan Butcher
Born 1910 in France, Jean Anouilh is considered today to be one of the greatest French dramatists of his lifetime, renowned for his craftsmanship and mastery of dramatic technique. Being a French playwright, Anouilh revered the work of comic genius Molière. Yet his style was most deeply impacted by the extremely theatrical, non-realistic plays by Jean Giraudoux and Luigi Pirandello. It was from these artists that Anouilh learned to tell the truth within a framework of unreality.
A private man and reticent soul, Anouilh’s personal life was entirely tied up with his life in the theatre. A self-described “comic misanthrope,” he was well-known for slipping quietly away from his premieres before the performance was over. “The public is invited to the premiere,” he once said. “My private life is my own affair.” This privacy and his utter devotion to his writing left Anouilh idealistic and naïve about worldly affairs. His hopeful optimism and youthful naivety were shattered by the Nazi occupation of France during World War II and its aftermath.
World War II was catastrophic for the French: their infrastructure was turned to rubble, their economy was obliterated and the population was devastated by financial and familial loss, hunger and sickness. Moreover, the German occupation turned France upside-down politically and left the country in a state of deep cultural humiliation. France struggled mightily after the war with how to address the French who had aligned themselves with Germany during the occupation — many were executed in extrajudicial killings.
One such incident in specific concerning a fellow French dramatist Robert Brasillach left Anouilh permanently disillusioned with the state of the world: Brasillach was condemned to death for collaborating with the Germans; Anouilh failed miserably when he tried to collect signatures in an attempt to save the man’s life. “The story is not great,” Anouilh said of the failure. “These rather theatrical tricks, this ridiculous melodrama, this sinister buffoonery, these half-comic traitors, reeking with convention, with their uniforms, their Legions of Honor, their glory, their big words, this was really what it was; this was life.”
“L’invitation au château” (later translated to English as “Ring Round the Moon” by Christopher Fry) was written in 1947 — just two years after the Allied liberation of France. A deeply funny but also painfully truthful comedy about the intersection of wealth inequality, classism and love affairs, it was the first play written in a collection of plays that Anouilh called his pièces brilliantes — elegant, diamondlike comedies notable for their glittering language, complex plotting, and the hardness and coldness lying at their centers. Surrounded by plenty of hardness and coldness every day in post-WWII France, Anouilh set his play instead many years before the war at a grand party in a lavish winter garden at the extravagant estate of a wicked, mega-wealthy matriarch.
Just as his audience in 1947, we are invited now to forget the turmoil of our day and age for an evening to delight in the witty drama Anouilh has concocted for us to get wrapped up in. Instead of disingenuously dismissing the all-too-obvious coldness and hardness at the center of post-WWII life, Anouilh transports us to Madame Desmortes’ pre-war winter garden to play within it, inviting us to root against the schemes of Hugo, fall in love with Isabelle’s authentic beauty and laugh at the outlandish immoralities of the extreme wealthy.