Sixty-four years before “Seinfeld,” that smug self-proclaimed television series about nothing, helped launch NBC’s Thursday-night lineup into the ratings stratosphere, English actor, playwright, singer, and songwriter Noël Coward penned a series of bubbly little romantic comedies, such as Fallen Angels, which chronicles the epic falling out of two Best Friends Forever who meet for drinks and become increasingly unhinged when they learn that a certain dashing Frenchman with a megawatt smile whom they both dated two decades earlier — before their humdrum marriages — is returning to London.
No one freights small talk with more hilarious hidden meanings than Sir Noël; and Triangle theater veterans Lynda Clark and Sandi Sullivan give Fallen Angels wings in the current University Theatre at N.C. State production, which opened TheatreFest 2012: A Knockout Season of Dueling Duos last week. Indeed, consummate comediennes Clark and Sullivan put on a veritable comic-acting clinic as Julia Sterroll and Jane Banbury get increasingly giddy at the prospect of renewing auld acquaintance with the handsome French bon vivant Maurice DuClos (played with swaggering self-confidence Ronald A. Foreman). There’s no reading between the lines here; Julia and Jane are both bored senseless by stuffy straitlaced husbands who take them for granted and by moribund marriages in which romance is only a distant memory.
Listening to the verbal thrusts and parries of Sandi Sullivan and Lynda Clark as Jane and Julia — especially as their consumption of spirits loosens their tongues and skews their judgment — is reminiscent of a vintage episode of the old “I Love Lucy” television show in which Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo and Vivian Vance as Ethel Mertz accidentally imbibe an intoxicant and make fools of themselves. Sullivan and Clark likewise have TheatreFest patrons rolling in the aisles.
John C. McIlwee and Paul Paliyenko are delightfully dull as Julia and Jane’s clueless husbands, Fred Sterroll and Willy Banbury, who haven’t the faintest inkling that the return of an old boyfriend that Jane and Julia shared long ago is about to turn their comfortable middle-aged world upside-down. When Willy and Fred leave town on a golfing outing, the coast is clear for Maurine DuClos to waltz back into the lives of their wives and really alienate some affections.
N.C. State University adjunct instructor and Common Ground Theatre managing director Rachel Klem of Durham whips up a tasty comic soufflé with the delectable ingredients that Noël Coward provides. Only Joanne Dickinson as Sterrolls’ new maid Saunders stumbles over her lines. Her cohorts in comedy are surprisingly surefooted, no matter how preposterous the line or the situation.
Scenic designer Jayme Mellema handsomely recreates the dining-drawing room of the posh London flat of Fred and Julia Sterroll; and costume, hair, and makeup designer John McIlwee adds touches of authenticity with his vivid creations. All involved with Fallen Angels at TheatreFest deserve kudos for getting this 1925 comedy up on its feet and riding it to new heights of hilarity in the 21st century.
SECOND OPINION: May 30th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (which awarded the show 3.5 out of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/classic-coward-in-fallen-angels-at-ncsu-theatrefest/Content?oid=3076302. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of Triangle Theater Review’s May 25th preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/05/in-noel-cowards-fallen-angels-two-best-friends-nearly-come-to-blows-over-a-former-lover/.)
University Theatre at N.C. State presents FALLEN ANGELS at 7:30 p.m. June 2 and 3, 7:30 p.m. June 7, and 2 p.m. June 10 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.
TICKETS: $15 ($5 NCSU students and $13 other students and seniors). BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/.
The Play (background): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallen_Angels_(play) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Playwright: http://www.noelcoward.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noël_Coward (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.