’Angels’ far from fallen


Dorset Theatre Festival continued its renaissance 35th anniversary season under new artistic director Dina Janis by turning to a classic farce, Noel Coward’s longtime audience favorite, "Fallen Angels." Directed by Suzanne Agins, DTF’s second of four shows reflects a tried and true season formula: Start thoughtful, go playful, hit ‘em with Christie, and end with something new.

Longtime DTF devotees have been raised on constancy, and Janis saw no reason to fix something that wasn’t broken. By going back to the well that had been bypassed the last few years, crowds are returning to DTF. As tough as times are, Dorset’s revival shows that regional theatres can be successful if they listen to their audiences, and sprinkle the right amount of creativity onto that echo.

The setting is 1925-ish in the dining-drawing room of the Sterrolls’ London flat. There, Julia Sterroll (Amy Lynn Stewart) and her husband Fred (Tony Hagopian) live a life of English comfort through which runs an undercurrent of the mundane, particularly when it comes to excitement and freshness (read: sexuality).

Enter Julia’s longtime friend Jane Banbury (Jeanine Serralless) and her husband Willy (Ronan Babbitt), another privileged couple whose lives parallel the Sterrolls’ in Anglo-induced tedium. They are joined by a new maid: Jasmine, a.k.a. Saunders (Melissa Hurst), a female Mr. Belvidere.

The husbands cluelessly depart on a golf holiday, leaving their wives to stew in suggestiveness. Apparently, both women are mired in anticipation of the return of a past French lover, Maurice Duclos (Gene Gillette). With Saunders strafing the stage at the most inopportune of times - making herself more relevant than her mistress cared - the action flows from morning to evening to the next morning, to the heights of titillation and back, all with rollicking humor.

Veteran performers Stewart and Seralles, Ying to each other’s Yang, took the near-capacity audience through an evening of innuendo, arousal, and downright guffaws. They proved that hiding a bit from view still builds allure. Both pushed us to the brink of expectation. They used their physical gifts and period dress to flaunt their sensual selves in a tapestry held together by Coward’s clever repartee.

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Equally convincing were Hagopian and Babbitt in their rendition of the emasculated Brit stereotype: Cool, calm, and nearly impotent. The two men were a stitch while portraying Victorian mores out of sync with their spouses’ festering passions. Their stiffness and stuffiness served to accentuate a clear lack of insight into female yearnings.

Gillette, whose appearance was long awaited and fully caricatured, played his small part solidly. But it was Hurst who looked as if she was having far too much fun in stealing one scene after another, a testament to Coward’s appreciation for the gadfly, as well as her own considerable talents. Janis is bringing back DTF favorites, and judging by the crowd reaction to Hurst, audiences are taking notice.

Ryan Palmer’s set design was beautifully done. Jacqueline Firkins’ costumes of Julia and Jane were an array of rainbow hues and high fashion for the times, a visual cornucopia not to be missed. Lights by Nick Francone, and sound by Jane Shaw were capable and well-timed.

Contemporary critics liken "Fallen Angels" to a 1920s version of HBO’s hit "Sex in the City." Janis, showing her career-long penchant for preparation and detail, had to have known this particular nugget when seeking a sophisticated comedy for her first Dorset line-up. Audiences are now reaping what she has sown, to fabulous effect.

"Fallen Angels" runs through July 25 at Dorset Theatre Festival. For ticket reservation and information call the DTF box office at 802-867-5777 or visit www.dorsettheatrefestival.org

Telly Halkias is the Stage Names drama critic. E-mail him at: tchalkias@aol.com


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