The latest production from Jewel Theatre Company is as light and bubbly as the champagne the characters quaff incessantly onstage. For the company’s second offering at their new home, the Colligan Theater at the Tannery, Artistic Director Julie James has chosen Noel Coward’s crowd-pleasing farce Fallen Angels.
The play’s subject matter, that women might be capable of having sexual lives outside of marriage, was considered quite racy in its day. Even though its day was 1925—smack in the middle of the postwar, anything-goes Jazz Age, when sexuality was obviously a fact of life—it was still not something usually discussed onstage. But Coward got away with it using his trademark wit and grace, depicting not an affair, but its aftermath, and providing wry commentary on what happens when the wild past of two proper, married English ladies comes back to haunt (and entice) them.
The production is directed by Art Manke, veteran of both Santa Cruz Shakespeare (last summer’s hilarious The Liar), and JTC (the equally hilarious What the Butler Saw). Manke is also an expert on Coward, having directed nine productions of his work, and it shows in the fleet pacing and style he brings to this vivacious show. Coward’s Fallen Angels combines elements of the cult TV hit Absolutely Fabulous and its dizzy, champers-swilling girlfriends, with plenty of 1920s chic.
Julia Sterroll (Nike Doukas) has been happily married to Fred Sterroll (Kit Wilder) for five years. (Their comfortable, powder-blue drawing room is the only set, masterfully detailed by scenic designer Tom Buderwitz to include a baby grand piano and a vintage Victrola.) On the morning Fred is leaving on an overnight golfing trip, they congratulate themselves that they still love each other, but they are no longer subject to the rash throes of being in love.
Fred heads off to the links with his buddy, Willy (Shaun Carroll). Julia looks forward to a weekend of “practicing ballet” and amusing herself, until her best friend, Jane (Marcia Pizzo), Willy’s wife, rushes in with shocking news: a Frenchman named Maurice, with whom both ladies dallied seven years earlier, before they had even met their current husbands, has come to town. The ladies panic, desperate to keep their youthful indiscretions secret from their husbands. (“It’s unfair that men should have the monopoly on wild oats,” Julia complains, to which Jane counters, “They don’t, but we let them think they do.”)
But what they really fear is that now that their marriages have become so settled, they won’t be able to resist the Frenchman’s charms. Yet somehow their initial plan to run away for the weekend evolves into the two of them awaiting Maurice in the Sterrolls’ flat—both women in swanky evening dress and fortifying themselves with champagne. (Kudos to costume designers David Kay Mickelsen and B. Modern for all the elegant costume changes—including the plaid plus-fours of Fred’s golfing outfit.)
This extended comic sequence is the centerpiece of the play, a boozy riff on Waiting For Godot. Doukas and Pizzo are wonderfully funny as small, dark, outwardly composed Julia, and tall redhead Jane, hovering on the edge of hysteria. Egging each other on, they discuss love, sex, and romance; pratfall about the flat; and segue from sisterhood to rivalry to recrimination as the bubbly flows.
Wilder (better known for swashbuckling roles in The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask with Shakespeare Santa Cruz), and JTC stalwart Carroll are just right as phlegmatic Fred and slightly more excitable Willy. Shaking the menfolk out of their complacency becomes the unspoken goal as the two couples meet the morning after to fling about accusations and speculation over what’s happened. And J. Paul Boehmer is sublimely unflappable as the prodigal Maurice.
Finally, a word of praise for longtime JTC diva Diana Torres Koss’ scene-stealing turn as Saunders, the Sterrolls’ new maid. Nothing fazes the ferociously competent Saunders, and Koss is a riot throughout, whether answering the phone or sneaking over to the piano when no one else is about, entertaining the audience between scenes. She brings a little extra fizz to Coward’s sparkling cocktail.
The Jewel Theatre Company production of Fallen Angels plays through Feb. 21 at the Colligan Theater at the Tannery. For ticket information, call 425-7506, or visit jeweltheatre.net.