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Frequent Ten Chimneys guest’s play weathers the years well


By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

April 21, 2016

 
      

 Photo by Paul Ruffolo
 From left, Kay Allmand, Molly Rhode and Beth Mulkerron in “Fallen Angels.”

AT A GLANCE
“Fallen Angels”

The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production written by Noel Coward runs through May 1 in the Broadway Theater Center, 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. Call 414-278-7800 or visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com.

MILWAUKEE - Noel Coward, a frequent visitor to Ten Chimneys in the Town of Genesee, the center of the theatrical universe for many years, once said about one of his visits, “I dined with Alfred and Lynn - just the three of us. We started at a quarter to eight and finished at a quarter past one, during which time we never drew breath. We wandered back and forth happily over the 41 years we have known and loved one another, and it was altogether enchanting and, above all, comforting.” (1960)

Coward, a director, actor, composer and prolific writer of comedies, is back on stage under the auspices of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, and a merry romp it is.  “Fallen Angels,” written in 1925, was almost banned from the stage in its time.  It was considered, among other things, “obscene, shocking, vulgar, disgusting and vile.” By today’s standards, we can only say, “How times have changed.”

The idea of women getting drunk or having sexual fantasies or not being virgins when they married was once definitely unacceptable.

Coward is a very witty man. One can sense that he had almost as much fun writing his plays as we do watching them. Clever dialogue abounds, appropriate music crops up in all the right places, male and female characters are both the target of his affectionate swipes, and a theme of some sort is usually subtly woven in. This theme is whether one can sustain passion in a marriage or is it at best a companionable, comfortable but often ho-hum ritual of tolerance and acceptance.

Two couples, affluent and seemingly semi-content in their married lives, are put to the test when a former French lover of both of the wives before they were married writes that he is coming to town to visit both Julia and Jane. Their husbands, Willy and Fred, are going on a golfing tour and are totally unaware of the postcards their wives have received, so their absence makes a meeting with Maurice possible and utterly alluring. The women are quickly thrown into titillating memories.

As the two women at Julia’s house await Maurice’s arrival, they get drunk and nasty to each other. The scene is the apex of hilarity. Despite their long close friendship, they both seem to have some mutual gripes about each other, and under the pressure of waiting, they all spill out. Eventually Jane leaves in a huff.

Soon after, Willy arrives looking for Jane who is not at home. Julia tells him that she is meeting an old lover, which totally befuddles the smug, nerdy Willy, who can’t imagine any woman wanting anyone but him. Together they go off to find Jane. Meanwhile Fred appears, followed closely thereafter by a bedraggled-looking Jane. When he asks the whereabouts of Julia, he is told that she has gone to meet a former lover.

How this all works out is Coward’s secret and ours to discover. The roles of the three women characters are perfectly executed by Kay Allmand as the smooth, sophisticated Julia; by Beth Mulkerron as the bubblier, more coquettish Jane; and by Molly Rhode as the rambunctious maid Saunders, who is probably the smartest character of all.

Rick Pendzich  and Chase Stoeger are ideal as the oblivious husbands, and Matt Koester as the sexy Frenchman who understands female needs better than the husbands do. The play ends on a musical note with everyone gathered at the piano, one of the focal props in the well-decorated living room (set designer Maureen Chavez-Kruger) as the musically inclined cast gives us a happy-ending tune, but what happens next as the curtain descends is anyone’s guess. Coward likes to keep us wondering.