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Fallen Angels at The Dorset Theatre Festival: Review

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Fallen Angels, Dorset Theatre FestivalDirected by Suzanne Agins, Coward’s 1925 comedy of manners is worthy of applause thanks to significant efforts by the cast and director. Coward, who’s written more than 30 works for the theatre, including Present Laughter and Blithe Sprit, has created a scenario devoid of the substance or witty repartee one might expect from a play concerned with love affairs and written as social satire. Even Coward himself considered the play “extremely slight.” Despite this, the show has remained one of his most popular, likely due to its being an excellent showcase for the two female leads.

The play follows Julia Sterroll (Amy Lynn Stewart) and Jane Banbury (Jeanine Serralles), two young English women in the early 20th century, comfortably married to their husbands of five years, Fred (Tony Hagopian) and Willy (Ronan Babbitt). The driving force here is the anticipation of the arrival of the oh-so-sexy, and fabulously foreign, Maurice Duclos (Gene Gillette). As it turns out, both women have had relations with the Frenchman prior to their marriages, an act which draws into question their fidelity to their then unknown to them husbands. This may seem a bit trivial for today’s modern audiences, but to Coward and his contemporaries, the issue of premarital fidelity was a controversial one.

Fallen Angels begins slowly but soon vamps itself up with the introduction of Jane Banbury. By the time Act 1 comes to a close, you’ve fallen in love with the charming, yet morally questionable duo, as they anxiously await the arrival of their ex-lover. Mayhem ensues, culminating in a tour de force as Stewart and Serralles stumble and slur their way through an increasingly drunken Act 2. Serralles’s Jane outshines Stewart’s Julia, but only by a small margin. Serralles plays her in the vein of today’s comedians, think Amy Poehler or Tina Fey, while Stewart’s Julia is grounded, befitting the time period as written by Coward. Both actresses deserve tremendous praise for their performances.

The show runs 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission, a positive thing, as the lack of intermission helps detract from the third act’s fizzle. It’s the writing that fails here, dying mid-way through Act 3. But still there’s no worries, as the rest of the show has more than enough oomph to keep you interested.

Both the direction and set design deserve special mention. The set is understated, with a pale blue design, allowing you to focus on the actors and their decadent costumes. The direction is also tight and professional.

While Coward’s writing is at times dated, the director and company clearly worked diligently to create such a laugh-filled show, which is where the heart of the show lives – in the interpretation and delivery of each line, and the design and production of the set.

For more information on the Dorset Theatre Festival, and its list of shows playing throughout the summer, click here.

–Chelsea Slosberg is an Assistant Editor of The Free George.

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