‘Fallen Angels’: Noel Coward’s ‘Sex & the City’

Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” and “Private Lives” get revived frequently, but you don’t hear about too many productions of “Fallen Angels.”

The 1925 comedy is about two married London women — best friends for many years — who are excited and horrified by a possible visit from a Frenchman with whom they both had affairs before they were married.

According to the Internet Broadway Database, there hasn’t been a Broadway revival of the play since 1956 when Nancy Walker and William Windom co-starred in an Americanized version of the script (with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as the visiting lothario).

On a visit to Philadelphia last weekend, I saw the well-received production at the Walnut Street Theatre. While Coward’s 1925 euphemisms are still in place, the piece feels surprisingly modern as a story of juicy women heading into middle age who are tired of the sexual routine of marriage and the dense men who can’t believe their wives had much sexual interest — or experience — before they got married.

Coward wrote two terrific roles for women — Julia Sterroll and Jane Banbury — and funny supporting parts for the dense husbands who take off on a golfing trip in the first act and return to be left reeling by news of their wives’ premarital adventures in Act Three.

The real centerpiece of the play is the long second act dinner (above) shared by the two women as they get increasingly drunk while talking about the mysterious Maurice Duclos. Their supposed anxiety about what their husbands will think is not very convincing — we can see that they are both hot to trot with Maurice again.

It must have been quite shocking in 1925 for two women alone on stage to let their hair down about sex before marriage, sex during marriage, and the possibility of cheating on their husbands. The women keep saying they don’t want to see Maurice again, but it is easy to see that they are each trying to get the other one out of the way before the man arrives.

During this long scene, I couldn’t help but think of “Sex and the City” and the way that HBO series blew people’s minds a decade ago with its depiction of how women talk about men when there are no men around.

Susan Riley Stevens (above, right) and Karen Peakes are terrific as Julia and Jane and Greg Wood and Bill Van Horn are very funny as the clueless husbands.

Coward also wrote one of his best comic maid parts in “Fallen Angels,” the newly arrived Saunders (Jennie Eisenhower) whose seemingly limitless skills and experiences keep shocking the two women she is serving.

If you’re anywhere near Philly between now and May 2, director Malcolm Black’s crisp revival is well worth a visit.


Joe Meyers