Hillary Clemens and Kate Hampton in Asolo Rep's Fallen Angels.
For Noel Coward fans, a chance to see even one of his minor plays is cause for some celebration. And that’s what we have with Fallen Angels, a little-seen work from 1925 that’s now onstage at the Asolo Repertory Theatre.
It’s hard for modern-day audiences to imagine that this bit of froth about two bored London housewives, titillated by the anticipated return of a Frenchman who’s a former lover of both, could have aroused such epithets from the press as “disgusting” or “nauseating,” simply because its two female leads did, prior to meeting their husbands, have those brief but memorable flings with a man named Maurice. It’s not really even infidelity, although the whiff of it--and the possibility that the real thing will occur--is what drives the action.
The two housewives are longtime friends, Julia (Kate Hampton) and Jane (Hillary Clemens), who live in the same building and are seeing their no-longer-very-passionate husbands (Jason Bradley and Andrew Carter, respectively) off for a golf weekend that happens to be taking place at the same time that Maurice plans to pay a visit to London. Most--in fact, almost the entirety--of the comedy revolves around how the women handle their mixed emotions: fear of falling into an affair (along with fear of not doing so) along with a competitive fever for the mostly unseen Maurice’s favor (the buildup to his return takes up the first two acts) and tense excitement, mingling with a potent mix of martinis and champagne that leads to some drunken behavior as Jane and Julia spend an evening awaiting the big moment.
It’s all directed (by Peter Amster) and played to the hilt, and Hampton and Clemens are a good team as the silliness escalates and some typical Coward banter gives way to more physical humor. But as far as the play itself, it feels like a trifle--one with some spirit and sophistication, of course, but not on a par with the playwright’s better-known works, like Private Lives or Blithe Spirit.
You couldn’t ask for more upper-class oomph from Clemens and Hampton, aided by Carolyn Michel as a new maid whose skills inexplicably seem to range all over the place, from golf to music to foreign languages. The men in the cast aren’t given that much to do, although the arrival of Maurice (David Breitbarth) at last upon the scene (his suit alone elicits an audience gasp) does contribute to the general air of sexual naughtiness.
Everything, including the set by Robert Mark Morgan and costumes by Virgil C. Johnson, feels polished to a high gloss, and there’s some fun in losing yourself in this imaginary world for 90 minutes or so. But there really isn’t much to it.
Fallen Angels continues through May 13; call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.