When it comes to witty, sophisticated repartée, no playwright tops Noël Coward. His brittle comedies that focus on changing mores and the socialite class have been a staple of the theatrical repertoire for close to a century, his first play having been written as a teenager in 1918; his first full length play produced in the West End in 1920 in which he took the leading role. Private Lives, Blithe Spirit and Hay Fever are frequently revived; his 1925 opus, Fallen Angels, less so. Kudos to TheatreWorks for bringing this work to life in an elegant production.
Five years into their marriages, bosom buddies Julia Sterroll (Sarah Overman) and Jane Banbury (Rebecca Dines) are in the romantic doldrums. Passion has fled their relationships. They have settled into comfortable conviviality and become “wretchedly happy married women.” Word that an old amour from their bachelorette days, a Frenchman named Maurice (Aldo Billingslea) who bedded them both at different times, has come to London, puts the women into a delicious dither of fearful excitement at the prospect of encountering the charismatic roué, resulting in delectable situation comedy fueling a brilliant flow of language.
As played by Ms. Overman, Julia is the steadier woman resigned to her lot with not enough to do. Her fuse is lit when Jane (Ms. Dines in an exuberant, madcap performance) shares the news of Maurice’s impending visit and intends to flee London with Julia in tow. Expectation trumps fear and the two women become giddy, giggling schoolgirls drenched in anticipation. Julia’s new servant Saunders (the extraordinary Tory Ross), an unexpectedly accomplished woman, is a modestly steadying influence.
And what of the husbands? Julia’s Fred (Mark Anderson Phillips), a not unpleasant creature of habit, and Jane’s Willy (Cassidy Brown) go off on an overnight golfing expedition to Chichester, leaving the women free to make whatever they will of their situation.
With the first act establishing exposition, character and situation, the play ignites after intermission as the women eat and drink always fearing and hopefully expecting a knock on the door or the ring of the telephone. Ms. Overman and Ms. Dines hold nothing back. In a tour de force performance, they are wildly incandescent and hilariously physical in their comedy, while delivering the gorgeous language in high style.
Director Robert Kelley keeps the action flowing and the pace fast. The production supports the style of the play with a set by J. B. Wilson (lighting by Stephen B. Mannshardt) authentically representing a fashionable upper class flat in the London of the mid-1920s. Costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt are simply scrumptious.
Fallen Angels runs through June 28 at Mountain View’s Center for the Performing Arts.