The talent of the actors outweigh the writing and story of the play in Walnut Street Theatre's “Fallen Angels” written by Noel Coward, admittedly the quintessential 'umo universale' of the '20's to the '40's.
The author, born in 1899, is an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise"
Coward achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as "Hay Fever" (recently performed by UD's REP Ensemble), "Private Lives," and "Design For Living," among others, have remained in the regular theater repertoire.
You may have not heard of “Fallen Angels” prior to this; the primary reason being the excellence of writing and urbanity for which Sir Noel “The Mad Dog Englishman” is known for does not reach the heights in this production.
That is not to say the female leads, Susan Riley Stevens as Julia and Karen Peakes as Jane, do not furiously attack and consume their roles as upper crust matrons in London in the '20's.
Jane and Julia are best friends. They live in the similar, very posh flats and are both married to loving (if slightly inattentive and dull) husbands. “Piff, piff,huff huff and all that, old boy!”
The boys head out for a golfing weekend and they get word that a very dashing and debonair Frenchman - with whom both had affairs before marriage – is arriving in London as the husbands parry forth on the links.
What follows is an extremely funny set of circumstances fueled by not only petty jealousy and misinformation but also champagne, martinis and other alcoholic libations.
Both women have their own style, their proper English accents are superb and they balance their characters with just the right amount of slapstick. They understand the metre and syntax of a laugh line and stretch everything out of a script that asks for some suspension of reality from the audience.
Saunders the maid (Jennie Eisenhower) steals every scene in which she appears. If Coward had known Eisenhower was to play this character, he would have written more for her.
Saunders is the type of maid one would love to employ but would drive you to daily fits of paroxysm. She's precise and excellent in her house duties, but happens to know more facts than you do and is an expert at everything you thought you were excellent at.
Eisenhower, along with the other two women, affect characteristic physical attitudes that bring audience laughter as well. (Eisenhower recently won The Barrymore Award in Philly for “Best Actress in a Musical.” I saw her in that show, “Forbidden Broadway.” She flat out knocked dead her takes on Carol Channing and Liza Minnelli.)
Director Malcolm Black knows that people don't get drunk immediately after the first drink. His leads progressively lose their civility toward each other – and their mounting libidinous desires for the Frenchmen – so slowly, so languidly....just like you and I do it.
Costumes by Ellis Tillman could have been taken from Vogue of the era.
Til May 2 800.982.2787 WalnutStreetTheatre.org