Sitting in the mostly full, Hatlen Theater at UCSB, attending Robert E. Sherwood’s 1936 Pulitzer Prize winning Idiot’s Delight, I was immediately drawn to an explosion of colorful costumes and meticulous set design. Vibrant top hats, shining wigs, bedazzled dresses, and pearls set the stage aglow. The set itself, a fancy hotel lobby located in the Italian Alps, never changed, but because of the witty dialogue and distinct characters, as well as a few entertaining song and dance numbers, it didn’t feel like it needed a change. The character’s stories, told with their uncanny accents from English to Russian, took the audience all over the globe.
The play occurs right at the peak of World War II. Due to closing borders and political turmoil, the characters discuss the war and try to distract themselves from the impending possibility of more violence.
Most notably comical and amusing was the character Harry Van (Brennan Kelleher) and his troop of chorus girls, Les Blondes, who surprise the audience with a fantastically silly song and dance number: a combination of blond-wigged girls throwing batons in the air, doing the splits, and tossing an over-sized balloon around in the air.
Also engaging was the character Irene (Erika Lee) who disguises herself as Russian royalty. Languidly moving around the set in sparkling gowns, downing vodka shots and smoking cigarettes, Irene claims to have been exiled from her country because of the Communists. However, she tells different versions of her escape story to different people at the hotel. As a love story unfolds between Irene and Harry Von, he recognizes her from a one-night stand at a hotel in Omaha. When, toward the end of the play, Irene finally reveals her true identity, her accent switches from Russian to American convincingly.
A British, honey-mooning couple, Mr. Cherry (Bryan Forrest) and Mrs. Cherry (Allison Menzimer) provide laughs as they coo over each other, drinking champagne and babbling about nothing in particular.
Director, Aaron Levin, had his work cut out for him when the original director of the play withdrew three weeks into rehearsal due to illness. Levin embraced the challenge. “Written in the mid 1930’s, the language and style are very distinct. I didn’t want to shy away from that,” Levin said of the play. Idiot’s Delight is still relevant today, as politics and war continue to influence our lives.