“Angels” sparkle with Noel Coward’s wit and whimsy
EAST LANSING,Mich.–If you’re a student of theater, then Noel Coward is a name you need to know. An English playwright who lived from 1899 to 1973, he published more than 50 plays and acted in many of them during his lifetime.
So it makes sense that Summer Circle, whose acting troupe is made up of Michigan State University students along with the occasional guest artist, would choose a Noel Coward play for its final play of the summer season.
Fallen Angels is set in the 1920s and focuses on two high-society married women and what they do when an old lover re-enters their lives. Their dull but reliable husbands are off golfing when they get news that the dashing Frenchman is in London and wants to see them both.
Karen Vance and Rosie Sullivan play the two wives, Julia and Jane, respectively. They play well off each other, which isn’t surprising given that they’ve also worked together this summer in The Groundlings and Mr. Marmalade. They have similar characters and both are thrown into the same predicament.
While there are four others in the play, most of the stage time falls to these two actresses and they must own the space throughout the course of the story. This they do with effective crosses directed by Ann Folino White and an energy that varies as the plot progresses. Each carries herself in such a way that develops the character and speaks to the changes she goes through.
The show is set in London and Vance and Sullivan both sport accents that are accurate without sacrificing clarity. They are easy to understand and paint the setting with their manner of speaking.
The majority of the action centers on them discussing what they will do and how they will remain friends when both are obsessed with the same man because of a joint history with him. The hilarity that ensues pokes fun at cultural norms, high society and marriage.
One of the conventions poked fun at is the hired help. Mykayla Smith is Jasmine—whom the family insists on calling Saunders both because Fred has short-term memory loss and because it is deemed a more proper name for a maid. Smith has fun with the overbearing maid who is filled with advice for the family she works for. Her character has done a little of everything and Smith clearly shows through her actions that Saunders has aspirations above her birth.
Matt Greenbaum and Derek Bry do well with the little stage time they are given, both being the staid husbands who are on the smug and proper side, amusingly costumed in the first scene in golfing outfits by Karen Kangas-Preston. Coward gives them little to work with as the focus is definitely on the friendship and rivalry between the two wives. Rather, they are backdrops that explain why the wives act the way they do and why they might pine for the sexual assignations of their pre-marital past.
Curran Jacobs makes a brief appearance at the end as Maurice, the French lover who is the object of both women’s fantasies. He plays up the stock character, his accent contrasting with the others on stage and his actions playing up the insecurities and suspicions of the husbands.
Kangas-Preston does a beautiful job with the costumes, drawing upon 1920s English fashion without resorting to the easy choice of flapper dresses. The dresses of the two women first establish their role as matrons in society and then reveal their lurid fantasies as they await the arrival of their former lover.
Lex van Blommestein, assisted by Joey Lancour and Lorena Ndokaj, designed an intricate set, filled with the furnishings of a wealthy family and the crowded wall of a flat covered in pictures and portraits. In a set dominated by a piano, a dining table and a living room, there was surprisingly pieces of furnishings that were never or rarely used. Given that they must strike the set every night—and do so quickly on Friday and Saturday when a late-night show follows the mainstage production—it is surprising that there would be extraneous pieces, even if it does help place the couple as wealthy.
White has cast the show well, with each actor fitting well with his or her role, especially Vance as the more mature wife and Sullivan as the younger, more high-strung wife. Her blocking is centered on one portion of the stage, but it is always open to the audience and the character movement keeps the story interesting and engaging.
Coward’s Fallen Angels relies on wit and the emotional interchanges of its main characters. At Summer Circle, the show features the talents of Vance and Sullivan, both of whom add charm and humor to this drawing-room comedy.