Mauckingbird Theatre Company returns to the scene with their gender-fluid version of Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels. A quick 90-minute romp which gives a birds-eye view of marriage nearly a century ago. Mauckingbird’s mission is to produce innovative, affordable, gay themed theater. With that in mind, they are known to take original works and intentionally cast opposite of how the material is written. With Fallen Angels, their approach was keeping the script intact while casting male identifying actors (assumption made by program biographies) to play female identifying characters.
Peter Reynolds, Mauckingbird’s Artistic Director as well as for Fallen Angels, began the show with a brief curtain speech which also presented Coward’s two leading “ladies” as played by Liam Mulshine and Chase Byrd. Reynold’s tells us who these characters are and that their pronouns are “she/her”. Both actors are dressed in the finest suits as you would see in “Downton Abbey.” This posed several questions throughout the piece as as audience member trying to embrace the story. Why are the “shes” dressed as “hes”. Why not just change the pronoun to “he” or take a further step into gender fluidity and add a heel or full face? Or, dress the “shes” as 1925 women? However, the questions may be intentional as we are students of gender terms and acceptance. Does it matter how she is dressed at all?
Coward is a turn of the century gay icon who wrote with wit, charm, and a brutal honesty. Fallen Angels is salacious for 1925. Two married women, Julia Sterroll and Jane Banbury (Mulshine and Byrd respectively), who prior to marriage each had an illicit affair with Maurice Dulcos (Mitchel Bloom). While their husbands were out playing golf, the ladies were left behind to gab. Julia and Jane have each received postcards from Maurice that he will be back in London and wants to see them both. Mayhem ensues as these best friends attempt to avoid conflict as well as any marital affairs considering Maurice’s return.
Reynold’s stages the piece in the round, or in this case, a triangle using Andrew Laine’s clean and classic design with ease. With a brisk tempo and active staging, each moment was quick. Mulshine’s Julia was over the top where Byrd’s portrayal of Jane was far more subdued and nuanced. Either choice works but perhaps would work better one way over the other. The same is to be said of their husbands, Nate Golden as Willy Banbury and James Kern as Fred Sterroll. Golden’s elastic facial expressions aided to the humor of Coward’s wit whereas Banbury was stoic yet soft. Jenna Pinchbeck, who plays Saunders the maid, merges both styles with masterful skill. So much so that you are left to wonder what a 90-minute play about Saunders would be like.
Fallen Angels beautifully designed from costumes by Jeff Sturdivant, to a simple yet effective light plot from J. Dominic Chacon, and charming sound effects from Tanner Richardett. The properties from Avista Custom Theatrical Services were top notch. Not sure if they also provided the furniture but they were all delightful. I have yet to see an unpolished production from Mauckingbird and Fallen Angels was another well-designed play. Mauckingbird continues to take risks and Fallen Angels is a risk worth taking.
Now playing at The Drake through January 27th. For more information about the show and tickets visit Mauckingbird Theatre Company.