Two wealthy women fight over a former lover in the Walnut Theater's latest production.
The Walnut Street Theatre welcomes spring with an engaging production of Noel Coward’s comedy Fallen Angels.
“I think it’s awfully silly of people to lead unhappy lives,” says a character in Angels. It’s an understandable comment given that these characters’ hardest decisions involve golf clubs. But even the fabulously rich can suffer when affairs of the heart are concerned.
The play is set in an opulent London flat (effectively represented in Paul Wonsek’s lavish scenic design) belonging to Julia Sterroll (the excellent Susan Riley Stevens) and her husband, Fred (Greg Wood). The Sterrolls are loaded, but the passion has left their marriage. More comrades than lovers, Julia describes her marriage as lacking in “violent emotions.”
The thin plot shifts when Fred and his friend Willy Banbury (Bill Van Horn) go out of town on a golfing weekend. Left on her own, Julia is contemplating a weekend of boring, frivolous pursuits when she receives a correspondence from a Frenchman named Maurice Duclos (Dan Olmstead). Seven years earlier, Maurice had a romance not only with Julia but also with her best friend, Jane Banbury (an amusing Karen Peakes). Both women still harbor feelings for the suave Frenchman.
Sturdy, reliable and predictable, the Banburys’ marriage is as passionless as the Sterrolls’. Just the thought of Maurice (who Julia and Jane describe as “the one grand passion in both our lives”) releases the women’s primal lust.
Much of the play focuses on Julia and Jane as they await the arrival of their former lover. At first they’re united in their shared desire to renew their acquaintance with Maurice. However, over a meal served by the Sterrolls’ ridiculously overqualified and wonderfully pompous maid Saunders (Jennie Eisenhower, in an adept comic performance) the relationship quickly deteriorates into a drunken cat fight.
Coward’s greatest asset isn’t his ability to weave a complicated and nuanced story. Instead, it’s his witty dialogue that makes Angels rewarding and the Walnut’s cast delivers it with the proper mix of pomposity and panache.
Coward was only 27 when he penned Angels and it’s clearly the work of a playwright still developing his craft. The female characters are smart and resourceful, but the play’s three male characters have the dimensionality of cardboard cutouts.
Late in the play, Coward offers some observations on the double standard for men and women when it comes to premarital sex, but for the most part, he has little to say about the human condition.
Under Malcolm Black’s able direction, the Walnut’s production is mindless, frothy fun and a welcome opportunity to spend two hours in the company of one of the most gifted and glib playwrights in English theater.
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