For Noel Coward aficionados who don’t exactly need another production of “Private Lives” or “Hay Fever,” there’s “Fallen Angels” at the Pasadena Playhouse. While not quite a rarity like “The Vortex” or “Waiting in the Wings,” this marital five-year-itch comedy hasn’t appeared on Broadway in over half a century. For devotees, here’s your chance. For everybody else, you may understand why John Osborne and other angry, young playwrights of the 1950s briefly damaged Coward’s rep.
“Fallen Angels” is real drawing-room, hand-on-the-mantle stuff. But to his credit, Coward never wore his existential angst on his sleeve like Osborne or Samuel Beckett. But the abyss is always there in his work. Imagine if Coward had written “Waiting for Godot,” subbed women for men, turned it into a flat-out comedy, and then after his unhappily married Julia (Pamela J. Gray) and Jane (Katie MacNichol) wait and wait, Godot actually shows up in the person of a long-lost French lover named Maurice Duclos (the sex-on-wheels Elijah Alexander).
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Even though Julia and Jane have only been married to their respective husbands (the perfectly adequate and seldomly seen Loren Lester and Mike Ryan) for five years, helmer Art Manke has envisioned his two femme leads as a couple of Golden Girls who’ve watched too many episodes of “Absolutely Fabulous.” Gray resembles Joanna Lumley in one of her less electric perfs. MacNichol, wearing dreadful makeup and wig, has been made up to be an old harpy. Not that this isn’t a star turn: Imagine Billie Burke taking over for Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” It may not be what Coward had in mind, but she’s fascinating. And often funny in her extreme drunkenness as she and Julia wait for Duclos to arrive.
The age thing, however, is a problem. The title is “Fallen Angels,” not “Fallen Arches.” Even Tom Buderwitz’s detailed drawing-room set is all musty and cold-looking, the kind of thing that gives floral wallpaper a bad name. Julia and Jane aren’t yearning to reconnect with an old flame because they’re ready to break out the Fosamax. Coward is writing about something much sadder — that romantic passion can’t survive even a few years of young married life.
“Fallen Angels” is best known for its maid character, Saunders (the droll Mary-Pat Green), who sings, smokes, plays the piano, speaks French and knows all about golf balls and hangover remedies. A thousand sit-com writers owe Coward a real debt here.