CENTER STAGE

The last play I went to see with my girlfriend was The Gut Girls, for which I earned praise as a man sensitive and caring enough to be moved by the plight of disenfranchised women. So when my girlfriend asked me to see Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels at the Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre with her and her girlfriends, I grumbled only long enough to maintain my stubborn reputation. I knew the play was one of the few great comedic vehicles for female actors of the last century.

Incidentally Brigitte Robinson, Goldie Semple and Clare Coulter – all veterans of the Canadian stage, are the real highlights of this play. The three men, however, are a bit of a drag. To be fair though, sharing the stage with these women would be a difficult task for any actor. Thankfully most of the action onstage is played by Jane (Robinson) and Julia (Semple) while their husbands are off golfing.

What little plot there is centers around the anticipated return of Maurice, a Frenchman whom Julia and Jane both had an affair with seven years earlier, before they were both married. In the second act , Julia and Jane eat dinner and drink generous amounts of fine alcohol while they wait for Maurice to come by Julia’s flat.

The meal deteriorates into a hilarious drunken quarrel between the two well-to-do ladies. Drunkenness and drug use among members of the upper classes was a recurring theme of Coward’s plays that caused some controversy in the 20’s. Robinson’s timing and physical humour in these scenes is truly masterful.

The second act has more laughs in it than the other two combined. The three ladies – four, with director Diana LeBlanc – can be credited for this.

I only wish they would cut out those long, dead pauses between beats that occur throughout the play. Luckily, the dialogue is written with an intrinsically good pacing that keeps them on track.

Coulter brilliantly controls the off-kilter, know-it-all-ism of Saunders, the maid. You know you’ve got the crowd in your palm when you can elicit a roomful of belly laughs with the words “I used to be a barmaid.”

In the third act Maurice finally shows up. He is tall, dark and handsome and is greeted with whistles and “wows” from members of the audience – including my girlfriend.

The massive set that is Julia and Fred’s upscale London apartment has great sightlines for the audience and pathways for the actors. It is, perhaps, unnecessarily plain – especially compared to the ladies’ flashy, but functional, evening wears.

I found the second act of the play somewhat resembled Waiting for Godot. Two clowns wait for someone they’re not sure will show up, and are visited periodically by a character of a different station – in this case the maid.

My girlfriend thought the observation was pretty idiotic and was sure to let me know this in front of all her friends. I apologized and reminded her I wasn’t the one who needed five years to complete a major in Theatre.

That shut her up.

In fact, she still hasn’t spoken to me.

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