Fallen Angels/by Noel Coward/directed by Art Manke/Pasadena Playhouse/through February 24
The terribly witty genius Noel Coward was a poet, playwright, screen writer and music composer extraordinaire whose theatrical hits in the 30s and 40s were unparalleled successes in both the UK and elsewhere abroad... and in the United States. His farce Fallen Angels is rarely if ever produced and it gives 6 actors, especially the 3 women a field day, in which they can go as far over the top as their hearts desire all the while keeping the audience eating out of their hands. Actors love to act and Art Manke's cast at the Pasadena Playhouse are certainly no exception. They are deliciously campy, irreverent and full of the dickens... or should I say Coward?
Julia and Fred Sterroll (Pamela J. Gray and Mike Ryan) live a comfortable life in a perfect marriage, as do their friends Jayne and Willy Banbury (Katie MacNichol and Loren Lester). Julia and Jayne have everything, except they find themselves taken for granted by their husbands. They are no longer "in love" and pine for the days when sexy Frenchman Maurice Duclos (Elijah Alexander) wooed them both. Lo and behold, what arrives at Julia's door but a letter from Maurice, stating that he will pay her a visit...and her husband Fred just happens to be away golfing with Willy, so that leaves both Julia and Jayne free for romantic adventure, with their husbands totally unaware of the infidelity. Being best friends, of course, there is a rivalry between them. Each is envious as to which one Maurice will favor more. Should they save their friendship, and at the same time, their marriages by running away? Or should they stay and chance reliving one of the happiest times of their lives? This is the plot of Fallen Angels, as Coward pulls out all the stops to ensure that Julia and Jayne will do everything conceivable, short of murder, to spite one another. They get rip roaring drunk on champagne while awaiting Maurice's arrival - they make an entire day of it - over an elaborate dinner and dressed to the nines. Their pratfalls and split-second timing are preciously executed. When the husbands return the next day...well, I won't spoil the fun. Go and see for yourselves!
The ensemble under Manke's sterling direction are truly divine. Gray and Macnichol are two divaish pros who will stop at nothing to have a good time. Their drunken scene is a hoot and a half. The things they say and do will make you laugh 'til you cry. Two dynamite actresses! Equally up to comic mischief is Mary-Pat Green as Julia's new maid Saunders. This woman knows how to do everything including play the piano and does manage to sing a ditty or two while prop changes are made between scenes. Coward loves to have fun showing servants let their hair down and misbehave, and Saunders is one of his best! Green's delivery is sheer heaven! Coward gives the women the best roles in Fallen Angels, making them the center of attention, as the title implies. The 2 husbands seem useless props who bicker and groan except of course for the ever charming Maurice. Ryan and Lester are appropriately solemn and downtrodden; Alexander's Maurice in his all too brief appearance works a miracle or two.
Tom Buderwitz' set is lush and beautiful. If I gave out awards for scenic design, he would certainly be the 2012 winner for his gorgeous Heiress set. This one stands right along side it and matches its elegance blow by blow. David K. Mickelson's costumes, especially the ladies' evening attire in red and violet are lovely to behold.
Fallen Angels is a terrifically fun evening of theatre. I hope other productions of it will eventually follow, but none I can assure you will be better than this. Bravo!