Fallen Angels

NCSU Theatrefest
Through June 10

I mean no disrespect to actors John McIlwee, Paul Paliyenko and Ronald Foreman, who support the proceedings in Fallen Angels, Theatrefest 2012’s season opener. But, Noël Coward’s rewarding comic soufflé, which dates back to 1925, is strictly all about the ladies.

After the playwright dispatches the men in the first six pages of this addled tale of low blows among the upper crust, they do not reappear until the third act. It’s a circumstance that leaves the play’s two neglected wives and a servant an awful lot of time on stage to be funny.

No worries here, though; under Rachel Klem’s deft direction, Lynda Clark and Sandi Sullivan are equal to the task as Julia and Jane, two “wretchedly happy” married women with one lover too many in common from their past. When the rogue threatens to rematerialize at any moment, both become a bit too interested in renewing old acquaintances, and ultimately descend into verbal and physical brawls to determine the victor.

In Coward’s class comedy, the pair keep the proverbial stiff upper lipat least while the new maid, the boorish Saunders (JoAnne Dickinson), is around. Then the battle is rejoined as mud is flung, alcohol is quaffed and all decorum is shot. Klem provides this production a series of grace notes on Jayme Mellema’s tasteful set: a lovely scene change set piece set to “La vie en rose,” and that moment when Julia and Jane briefly summon their inner sumo wrestler at the first outbreak of hostilities. But it’s the helter-skelter machinations of Clark and Sullivan’s overheated matrons, and Coward’s cool wit, that keeps this vintage vehicle ticking.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Life in pink.”