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Review: 'Fallen Angels' an irresistible romp at Pasadena Playhouse

Critic's Choice

February 04, 2013|By Charlotte Stoudt
  • Pamela J. Gray, left, and Katie MacNichol in Noel Coward's "Fallen Angels" at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Pamela J. Gray, left, and Katie MacNichol in Noel Coward's "Fallen… (Jim Cox )

Shrug off that fur, have a cocktail and dish the dirt with “Fallen Angels,” Art Manke’s irresistible production of a rarely seen Noel Coward comedy, now at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Given the play’s fascination with female pleasure, it’s hard to believe this delicious 1925 romp hasn’t been revived more often. Startlingly modern, the play makes the hedonism in "Fifty Shades of Grey" seem so, well, earnest. 

After five years of marriage, passion is a fond memory for Londoners Julia and Fred Sterroll (Pamela J. Gray and Mike Ryan), whose surname says it all. Their best friends, Jane and Willy (Katie MacNichol and Loren Lester), are equally staid, planning golf weekends and tut-tutting over the hired help. “We’ve got to face facts,” Jane tells Julia. “We’re not in love with our husbands anymore.”

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But who needs marital bliss when a certain devastating Frenchman (Elijah Alexander) is coming to town -- an old flame who melted the hearts of both women back on the Continent.

In giddy preparation for an ardent reunion, these BFFs dress to the nines, then proceed to get hammered waiting for their Gallic love god.  When he doesn’t show, limbs and barbs are tossed around set designer Tom Buderwitz’s London flat, which comes with a convenient baby grand and a snappy cigarette lighter.  

Along with Gray’s astonishing shoes at the top of Act II, one of the show’s many pleasures (for most of us) is the chance to watch a Coward play without already knowing the jokes. Just what context will be marvelously twisted to produce a withering put-down? My personal favorite: “In the future, please search the marmalade.” Trust me on this one.

Above all, “Angels” showcases the talents of Gray and MacNichol, who own this show like Beyoncé live.  Gray’s comic froideur could freeze out "Ab Fab's" Patsy, while the lanky MacNichol’s screwball stunts include the best spit take you may ever see.

The olive perfecting this dry martini is Mary-Pat Green as the Sterrolls’ new maid, who hilariously turns out to be the Most Interesting Woman in the World.

Apple stock’s falling, the 49ers lost and Russell Crowe thinks he can sing. C’est la vie. With Coward around for company, the party’s looking up.

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“Fallen Angels”: Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2  and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 24. $32-$62. Contact: (626) 356-7529 or www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org. Running time: 2 hours. 

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