Noël Coward has a way of instantly lifting your spirits. No matter your mood before the curtain goes up, you’re likely to leave the theater at least a few shades happier than when you entered it.
A case in point is Coward’s early comedy “Fallen Angels,” a lighthearted farce with three-dimensional characters and a one-dimensional plot now barreling across the stage of the Irish Classical Theater Company’s Andrews Theatre at about 100 mph.
This breathlessly funny production, directed with characteristic ebullience and speed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, is powered by the easy charm and talent of its two leading ladies, Diane Curley and Bonnie Jean Taylor. It doesn’t hurt that the cast of supporting characters includes the comic master Brian Mysliwy (of “La Bête”), the commanding Matthew Witten (of “An Iliad”) and a hilariously grandiose Adriano Gatto (of “Emperor and Galilean”).
“Fallen Angels” is one of Coward’s lesser-known works. And while it is certainly more frivolous and less substantial than his more popular plays “Private Lives,” “Design for Living” or “Present Laughter,” it showcases all of the playwright’s dry wit, his arch sensibility and his penchant for razor-sharp repartee. It centers around two longtime friends, Julia (Curley) and Jane (Taylor), each of whom are five years into their passionless but otherwise perfectly acceptable marriages and rooting around for any hint of excitement.
When they receive word that a mutual fling from their single days, Maurice, is on his way to London, the shaky battle lines are drawn and the women take increasingly unsteady and drunken jabs at one another. When their husbands re-enter the picture along with the sexy, philandering Frenchman, the play turns instantly from a whimsical character study into a classic farce.
While the later action and confusion is great fun, the joy comes from watching the evolution of Taylor and Curley’s relationship from cheery amity to outright animosity. Their friendship, as has been mentioned in reviews of other productions, mirrors that of Eddie and Patsy, the cantankerous and typically inebriated leading characters on the British comedy “Absolutely Fabulous.”
Curley is magnificent in the role of Julia, visibly working to maintain her poise even as she grows more and more unsteady on her feet and distrusting of her friend. Taylor, for her part, is an expert at dishing out one-liners and flouncing around in that quintessentially Cowardian way that has to be seen to be appreciated.
Perhaps the best scene in the play comes as the two friends plod through a dinner that was meant to be shared with Maurice, who, Godot-like, seems as if he might never arrive. As they swill more champagne and grow increasingly angry, they come up with more and more absurd ways to change the subject from when the maid (Annette Daniels Taylor) pops her head in.
“The worst of a circus is, I’m always so terrified when they mistreat the animals,” Taylor’s character says with an astounded look on her face, interrupting Jane with perfect comic timing from her racy description of a night with Maurice under the Venetian moon.
Later, as they get even drunker and more frustrated, the repartee turns violent and the crowd is in hysterics.
Under Pezzimenti’s efficient direction, on David Dwyer’s fine set and in Dixon Reynold’s lovely costumes, these two incandescent talents are allowed to shine their brightest.
What: “Fallen Angels”
When: Through June 29
Where: Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St.
Tickets: $35 to $39
Info: 853-4282 or www.irishclassical.com