MADISON, NJ –Fallen Angels! OMG! LOL! Or any short-cut you can think of defines this hilarious, 1920s farce by Noel Coward.
The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is putting on an uproarious production of this frothy, witty play. The plot centers on two couples, Julia and Fred and Jane and Willy. The husbands are off for a golfing weekend, while the wives expect to spend time together back in London. But plans go awry when they each receive a note from Maurice Duclos, an amorous Frenchman. It seems they both had affairs with him before their marriages to Fred and Willy.
Suddenly, the dullness of their marriages is thrown into stark relief, as the two women recall weekends in Pisa or Venice. Act II finds Julia and Jane anticipating a visit from Maurice during the evening. As the waiting drags on, they drink more and more champagne. Both actresses, Julie Jeneck as Julia Sterroll and Melissa Miller as Jane Banbury play their parts to the hilt. Falling over the sofa, losing their fancy shoes, blaming each other for supposed deception, all add to their delirious drunkenness. As Jane starts to describe her rendezvous with Maurice, Julia stalks behind her, ready to strangle her with a napkin. Fortunately, the maid steps in from the kitchen, just in time.
Running interference is the maid Saunders (whose real name is apparently Jasmine), played with élan by Allison Mackie. Saunders has a great way with a tune as well as infinite knowledge about golf, bar tending, or any subject that arises. Michael Sharon, who makes a late appearance as Maurice, is every bit as charming as we’re led to believe.
The set conveniently includes a baby grand piano, which various actors sit down to play for a few bars. Charles Corcoran’s set design, in fact, is redolent with Art Deco touches, from the gray patterned wallpaper to silver-edged mirror. Accentuating the stylish flat are Martha Bromelmeier’s sleek and muted costumes. Julia’s hats and jackets are especially becoming and poor Jane is left in her evening gown and cloak for much of the play. Fred’s knickers are just the thing for a round of golf in 1925.
Jeffrey M. Bender as Fred and Ned Noyes as Willy are the righteously indignant husbands, hardly knowing what to believe when they arrive ‘the morning after.’ Not only do the actors maintain impeccable English accents, a certain amount of French is tossed around as well.
Matthew Arbour has directed this delightful show with great flair and impeccable timing. Just watching the wives devouring oysters as they continue to imbibe is priceless. Of course it’s all in the delivery, as when Willy tells Julia she’s insulting his wife. “Your wife! You’re an optimist,” she replies, or words to that effect.
According to program notes, “Fallen Angels” was attacked by theater critics and morality campaigners for its frank depiction of women who had had premarital sex, got drunk and were prepared to commit adultery – but the scandal was good for the box office. Of course, much of this behavior seems pretty tame today. Nevertheless, under the glitter and repartee, Coward has something to say about keeping romance alive, not taking each other for granted and preserving the delicate bonds of friendship.
“Fallen Angels” is an absolutely perfect escape on a steamy summer night in New Jersey. The theatre is cool and air conditioned, the dialogue sparkles and you’ll be glad you came. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is located in the bucolic setting of Drew University in Madison. The production continues until July 28
. For tickets, call (973) 408-5600
or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.