Villanova Theatre kicks off their 2014-2015 with a rarely produced gem from 1925 by Noel Coward: the sparklingly witty drawing room farce FALLEN ANGELS. Directed by the head of their highly regarded theatre department, Fr. David Cregan, the production runs from September 23—October 5, 2014 on the stage in Vasey Hall.
Born in 1899, Coward had a varied career that started in his teens and included acting, directing, composing and singing, in addition to writing some of the 20th century’s most beloved comedies. Introduced to Britain’s high society by a well-respected painter, Coward used his experiences as fodder for his more than 50 plays. Some of his better-known titles include Private Lives, Blithe Spirit and Hay Fever. A common thread throughout his canon is a satirizing of gender roles and societal restrictions held over from Victorian days—one could say he picked up where Oscar Wilde left off. A particular topic to come under his sharp wit was marriage; forced to remain closeted by the customs (and laws) of his day, Coward took great delight in pointing out the hypocrisy of the upper classes’ morals. Especially in an institution denied him.
“It seems so unfair that men should have the monopoly on wild oats.”
FALLEN ANGELS, written very early in his career, tells the story of two long-time society friends: Julia Sterroll and Jane Banbury. In their early thirties, both women have been married for seven years and a certain ennui has set in. Their husbands, Freddy and Willy respectively, pay more attention to their work and recreational pursuits than they do to the ladies—much to the women’s chagrin. At the start of the play, we are in the Sterroll’s nicely appointed flat and Julia’s husband Freddy is about to depart on a golf weekend with Willy Banbury. Shortly after the gents depart, Jane Banbury arrives frantic. She informs Julia that a former flame of theirs, Maurice DuClos, is coming to London and they must escape as quickly as possible lest they succumb to him again. Julia has other ideas; she thinks they should use Monsieur DuClos to elicit jealous reactions from their inattentive spouses. And the fun begins…
Former Hedgerow Fellow (and newly minted grad student) Rebecca Jane Cureton makes her Villanova debut in the role of Julia—and she does a bang-up job of chewing up the scenery (in a good way!). Making full use of her rubbery face and body, she never lets the action get away from her, and lands every joke with terrific precision. Jill Jacobs, a 2nd year graduate assistant, matches her punchline for punchline; she plays a gamut of emotions with great dexterity. Jacobs’ mix of vulnerability and cattiness is a hoot; the two are perfect foils for each other. Another sparkling performance in this talented ensemble is turned in by 1st year graduate assistant Christen Mandracchia as “Saunders,” the maid. Mandracchia nails the dry acerbic delivery of the servant who knows they are superior to their superiors. Though smaller, the three men’s roles offer great opportunities for the actors portraying them. 2nd year grad student Mitchell Bloom is wonderfully clueless and self-absorbed as Freddy Sterroll, while Kyle Fennie, a 1st year graduate acting scholar, does a bang-up job as the possibly cuckolded hubby, Willy Banbury. Last—but not least—there’s Stephen Tornetta, another 1st year grad student, as Maurice DuClos. He is terrific as the uber-charming—and a tad smarmy—European lover.
Parris Bradley’s drawing room set is absolutely lovely, mixing the traditional architecture of London flats in that era with the touches of Art Deco the Sterroll’s would have added. Jerold R. Forsyth’s lighting supports the action nicely, even during the clever scene changes. John Stovicek has created a spiffy soundscape that takes one right back to Coward’s “Jazz Age,” my companion and I found ourselves tapping our toes several times. And Janus Stefanowicz’s “flapper” era costumes are delightful.
Cregan keeps the action lively, giving his two female leads great slapstick moments amongst the pithy dialogue. He’s done a marvelous job of making 1920s British comedy relatable to 21st century American audiences. My one critique would be for the ladies to slow down a bit—I had trouble understanding some of what they said.
It was wonderful to discover this little jewel of a comedy. Noel Coward’s plays are always great fun—and FALLEN ANGELS is no exception. His sharp observations and brilliant wit has stood the test of time; and Coward remains among the masters of satire, excelling at pointing out the foibles of society in truly clever and funny ways. I recommend heading to Villanova to spend some time enjoying this wonderful confection, you won’t regret it.
by Noel Coward
Directed by Rev. David Cregan, OSA, PhD
Villanova Theatre-Vasey Hall
September 23—October 5, 2014