Whimsy, put on the stage, makes demands on the imagination that no other theatrical mode dare ask. "The Jealous Moon" is whimsy in a fantastic Italian comic setting. Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin are on the tiny stage of a travelling puppet show, and above them, in the miniature flies of the little stage, are the human selves of Jane Cowl, Philip Merivale and Guy Standing, who pull the strings of the dangling waggle-headed dolls. In the second act Peter Parrot, played by Philip Merivale, dreams all the company of puppeteers into the character and garden scene of the miniature play.
Jane Cowl is, as usual, strongest in nonchalance. She appears almost to let the part drop out of her hands, so consummate is her indifference. Too much naturalness can lose a show as easily as chanted lines or oratory. But Miss Cowl keeps her playing in the low keys of naturalness and yet it has no moment of wavering.
There is a price to be paid for this kind of verisimilitude. Laughter and tears may be close to one another, but the distance between naturalness and high emotional crisis is so far that it is difficult not to lose conviction at one end or the other of the journey. Both Miss Cowl and Mr. Merivale ring a tone less true within Peter's dream than out of it. Perhaps it is a subtlety that this should be so in a dream land.
Philip Merivale uses his engaging shamble and deep, even resonant voice in the same ways that favored "The Road to Rome". His showman's speech before the curtain was lightly and beautifully done. Guy Standing put patchicolored Harlequin up beside the other two leading parts with a smooth and restrained performance. The principle of return dominates "The Jealous Moon" as it did "Prunella", the dean of all whimsicalities and most of Barrie. Shabby Pierrot, tended by the lustreless Vermilia for whom he once left Columbine, wears a flannel muffler as he sits in the garden where love had been. The garden is unkempt, and the leaves on its dead grass are dry.
The play becomes almost wildly funny when Hamlet and Ophelia, from a rival puppet show, visit the harlequinade. Ophelia's rue was never worn with such a glorious difference as by Marion Evensen. Hamlet, played by Richard Nicholls, dies with Pierrot's rapier through his heart and on his lips a quotation from "The Merchant of Venice."
There is no place in whimsical comedy for such incubi as the three little cradles that are dragged on for the line "they're my hope cradles," of Miss Cowl. There is perhaps little more for soft epigrams like "Agenius? Someone who's always searching for something", which are five percent humor and ninety-five percent Jane Cowl. But there is something magical in the transformation of earned power that follows upon Harlequin's cool comfort of "That's life" to deserted Columbine. Miss Cowl turns her head suddenly up, and cries: "It's not; it's hundreds of little deaths."