by No‘l Coward
Directed by Peter Amster
Asolo Repertory Theatre Company
Florida State U.
Center for the Performing Arts/Mertz Theatre
5555 N. Tamiami Tr., Sarasota
941-351-8000; 800-361-8388
in repertory, March 9 through May 13

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker

With husbands Fred and Will away for a golfing weekend, Julia and best friend Jane are to have one of their mutual-devotion-filled confabs. In Fred and Julia SterrollÕs elegant London apartment in the early 1920s, what will unfold is an early Noel Coward drawing room comedy of bad manners. The women have received similar cards from Maurice, with whom each had an affair in Italy years before marrying. Now heÕs coming for a stay, and theyÕre looking forward to his relieving them from their Ōwretchedly happyŌ  marriages. In between arguments, the women get progressively silly-drunk awaiting the man they hope to renew an affair  with, preferably each to the exclusion of the other.  Seemingly for that purpose Jane runs off in a huff.  When the husbands return the next morning, early due to a quarrel, they are conventionally, in fact hypocritically shocked---shocked!---to learn of each spouseÕs early affair.  The obvious need is for a deux ex machina to help them. Voila!  Maurice appears  with explanations and admonishments to make the men face up to their marital  "responsibilities."  And thenÉ well, this is a comedy.
Fallen Angels, originally thought of as daring and even obscene, is today an artifact. It lets Coward devotees see his clever  style developing, though he writes short barbs rather than his  famous extended epigrams. In Andrew CarterÕs useful version of useless Will Banbury may be seen the influence of Oscar Wilde on Coward. (WillÕs last name reminds of the artificial  Bunbury in The Importance of Being Earnest, and, like Algernon, Will constantly snatches bits of food to down from the also aptly named SterrollsÕ breakfasts.) Jason Bradley is properly dull as Fred. Sexy Kate Hampton bringing out strong, outspoken Julia and more diminutive, high-strung Hilary ClemensÕ Jane going from skittish to blaring  could be extensions of Gwendolyn and Cecily in one sense, while in another, at least Julia looks forward to the stings and arrows shot by Amanda of Private Lives.  Like Coward typically making fun of the empty sophisticates, David Breitbarth  comes on briefly but potently as suave Maurice Duclos. The outstanding audience favorite among the cast is Carolyn MichelÕs on-the-mark Saunders, the Sterroll maid whoÕd like to be a.k.a. Jasmine. She has been everywhere, done everything and knows---among other things---how to correctly play piano, cure a hangover, and translate from French into English and vice-versa.  SheÕs one of CowardÕs intrusive servants, who show up the silliness of their supposedly urbane employers. In this case, Saunders is also the female equivalent of (inspiration for?) Mr. Belvidere.
Audience  comments heard on opening night may be summed up as either Ōfunny and cuteŌ or Ōdisappointing  and too long--should be cut.Ō  Considering the show lasted only 2 hours, 20 minutes with two 15 minute intermissions, length was not the fault of the script. If director Peter Amster is to be credited with the actorsÕ ease in their artificial  personalities and banter, he must also be responsible for the seeming too-great length.  A curious mix of realistic and presentational styles st-ret-ches the first act of mainly exposition to a curtain that many thought undramatically ended a merely long scene.  What adds to unnecessary activity, and thus time, is the weird placing of a dining table outside a bedroom door and on the complete opposite side of the apartmentÕs door to the kitchen, prolonging the many walks and servings Saunders must make. ThereÕs a fireplace  with none of the usual seating in front of it. Instead, a central sofa, on which the revelations and recriminations of the gal-friends take place, looks out at the non-existent fourth wall (and the audience), which later people stand in front of to look at a mirror. (Were the ladies also looking in that mirror, though seated, during their talks and quarrels?) Robert Mark Morgan has produced a set thatÕs handsome but confusing, just as Aaron MuhlÕs lighting outside a huge background window is dark on the morning of the last day of the play. (A mistaken light cue?)
Matthew ParkerÕs sound is reliable as usual; a grammophone produces an authentic recording.  Virgil JohnsonÕs period costumes in gorgeous colors and irredescence of swishy, rich fabrics, accessorized by matching fabric shoes and jewels from arm bangels to headbands, make the society women enviable. The black outfit on Saunders proclaims her status, as do golf duds on the husbands. The slick blue suit on Maurice evidences  his smartness. Would that Asolo RepÕs  production as a whole lived up to that quality, possessed by  so many of Noel CowardÕs plays. But then, Fallen Angels
itself  is one that hadnÕt yet risen to the level of his best.


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