Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Buffalo Irish Classical Theater Company's production of Noel Coward's Fallen Angels

Buffalo Irish Classical Theater

Not all fallen angels are the testosterone-charged masculine type à la Lucifer, aka the "morning star" yet in Milton's Paradise Lost, "the prince of darkness." Accordingly, a very young Noel Coward at age 25, lampoons the dicey dynamics involving two feminine fallen angels and best friends, Julia (Diane Curley) and Jane (Bonnie Jean Taylor), settled like cement in domestic bliss if not boredom until their ultimate romantic dalliance returns, the quintessential French lover, unfortunately named Maurice (Adriano Gatto), "the one grand passion of both our lives." The dashing Maurice has previously bedded both ladies but individually, not in a ménage â trois tryst. I say "unfortunate" because the name, Maurice, for me, will always be remembered as the nasty bellboy who sets up J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield with a hotel hooker, but that's another story.

Diane Curley in polka dots as Julia Sterroll, Bonnie Jean Taylor, Jane Banbury.  Photos are by Gene Witkowski Fallen Angels is set in the Roaring Twenties or as the French called it the "années folles," the Crazy Years, when jazz music blossomed, the flapper redefined modern womanhood, Art Deco peaked, the media focused on celebrities, especially sports heroes and movie stars, and women won the right to vote.

Diane Curley in polka dots as Julia Sterroll and Bonnie Jean Tayloas, Jane Banbury.  Photos by Gene Witkowski The two ladies try to solve their problem ("we're both ripe for a lapse") by imbibing large amounts of alcohol served by Saunders (Annette Daniels Taylor), the triple threat maid who can sing, play the piano and speak French, but liberally drinking martinis and liqueur merely adds to their trouble, both becoming barely able to speak or stand. Thus, with clouded judgement, the farce begins.

It's a silly play now, but in its time, greatly offended the supercilious class-conscious Brits for its portrayal of supposedly happily married women as lusty, frustrated, bored and prone to excess amounts of the aforementioned booze. Under the capable direction of Fortunato Pezzimenti, the two snotty husbands Frederick (Brian Mysliwy) and William (Matt Witten) are in for a rough ride.

The intimate Andrews Theater is a perfect setting for this farce. We are so close to the actors that we can't help but laugh at the sensual contortions of the two ladies on the couch and at the piano as they sexually writhe in fancied passion dreaming of Maurice's magic, "the one grand passion of both our lives." Curley and Taylor brilliantly carry the play with their treasured memories of Maurice and their imaginative meanderings about his likely return, leading to envy, hate and eventual reconciliation while Mysliwy and Witten perfect the quintessential boring Brits, two lamentable men who care far more for a game of golf than any romance with their wives.

Taylor, forced to abandon her real name - Jasmine (not suitable to Julia and Frederick) to take on the male appellation, Saunders, portrays a Renaissance maid, superior in every way to her superiors. She advises Frederick that he need only take irons for the course he will play, aids the women with French vocabulary for communication with Maurice, corrects Julia's mistaken choice of piano key (B flat), and sings and plays the piano much better than her mistress.

Gatto has big shoes to fill with his immense Casanova-like build up by the ladies, and he manages to deftly display his savoir faire with delicate yet decidedly lusty treatment of the pleased women in front of their astonished husbands.

Sir Noël Peirce Coward (16 December 1899 - 26 March 1973) was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise."

Born in Teddington, southwest London, Coward attended a dance academy in London as a child, making his professional stage début at the age of eleven. As a teenager he was introduced into the high society in which most of his plays would be set. He wrote more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Hay Fever, Private Lives, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit, have remained in the regular theatre repertoire today.

Adriano Gatto  Annette Daniels Taylor  Bonnie Jean Taylor  Brian Mysliwy  Diane Curley   Matt Witten

At the outbreak of the World War II, he ran the British propaganda office in Paris and worked with the Secret Service, seeking to use his influence to persuade the American public and government to help Britain. Coward won an Academy Honorary Award in 1943 for his naval film drama, In Which We Serve, and was knighted in 1969. The former Albery Theatre (originally the New Theatre) in London was renamed the Noël Coward Theatre in his honour in 2006.

Fortunato Pezzimenti Fortunato Pezzimenti enriches our appreciation of the play with this program note:
"Noel Coward, just 25 when Fallen Angels opened in London in 1925, dared to question the sexual double standard. The First World War served to shatter this old social order with its restrictive Victorian codes of behavior."

"The nightclub, the automobile and the Charleston symbolized the "Roaring Twenties" and a new energy in English life. Short skirts and short hair, a desire to be in motion, all signalled a dramatic shift from the ethos of the pre-war period. Nicky Lancaster, in Coward's early success, The Vortex claims "We're all so hectic and nervy."

"Einstein, Freud and Rutherford shook up the conventional theories of the past; the young were now without a prescriptive social code. It was a time of emancipation: birth control and sexual liberation; drink, drugs; divorce and adultery. Coward was the playwright of his time displaying an elegant urbanity, a biting wit and an innate understanding of this turbulent time."

"Eric Bentley in The Psychology of Farce claims that "Outrage to family piety and propriety is certainly at the heart of farce." The "Fallen Angels," Julia and Jane after an early lapse with Maurice, have been living exemplary lives of middle class virtue based on marital fidelity. If violated, the orderly structure of their lives would collapse. Yet they yearn for the passion they experienced in the past. Wanting the comfort of propriety and yet "unhinged by sex," they are moved by powerful impulses beyond their control."

"French philosopher Deleuze and French psychiatrist Guattari assert in Anti-Oedipus that, "If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire no matter how small is capable of calling into question the established order of society; not that desire is asocial; on the contrary. But it is explosive."

Theatre In Buffalo
In his Artistic Director's program note, Vincent O'Neill outlines the upcoming Irish Classical Theater season. "First, we visit Paris with The Liar, an ingenious adaptation of Pierre Corneille's outrageous tale of a man who cannot tell the truth. America is our next stop for Arthur Miller's Tony Award winning masterpiece Death of a Salesman. A castle in Chinon, France, is the setting for our next play as we revisit The Lion In Winter, a battle royale to be sure. Erotic and edgy, Strindberg's great Swedish classic is given an original twist by Patrick Marber in After Miss Julie, starring, from Chicago Buffalo's own Kate LoConti. First produced at Galway's Druid Theatre, Martin McDonagh's powerful play, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, is as visceral as it was when it first took Broadway by storm. And the Season is capped off in grand style with Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Saville's Crime."

Fallen Angels plays at The Irish Classical Theater Company's Andrews Theater on Main St. June 6 - June 29, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm; Sundays at 2pm.

Noël Coward - 1970 Tony Awards

In Which We Serve(1942) with Noel Coward, John Mills

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