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July 12, 2013

TT: Sauce for the gander

In today's Wall Street Journal I give thumbs up to a pair of out-of-town shows, Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's revival of Noël Coward's Fallen Angels and the premiere in Chicago of Keith Huff's Big Lake Big City. Here's an excerpt.

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Everybody likes Noël Coward's plays, but everybody does the same ones. "Private Lives" and "Blithe Spirit" get done all the time, "Present Laughter" and "Design for Living" somewhat less often, with "Hay Fever" popping up on occasion. Fine plays all, but it's time for a change, and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey has filled the bill with a top-flight revival of "Fallen Angels," which is at least as funny today as it was in 1925.

1373305728_8045_image.jpgJulia and Jane (Julie Jesneck and Melissa Miller), the best-friend heroines, are married ladies who find their oh-so-respectable husbands (Jeffrey M. Bender and Ned Noyes) to be a bit on the dull side. According to Julia, this is a good thing: "We're not in love a bit now, you know....It's so uncomfortable--passion." Maybe so, but her conviction is put to the test when Maurice (Michael Sharon), a Pepé Le Pew-type Frenchman with whom both ladies once had premarital flings, pays them a visit after a protracted absence, thereby triggering general mayhem.

Coward himself cast a cool eye on "Fallen Angels": "It was extremely light and needed a stronger last act...I cannot honestly regard it as one of my very best comedies, but it is gay and light-hearted." Truth or humblebrag? I know what he meant about the last act, but stage "Fallen Angels" with sharp timing and sufficient zest and the slight loss of climactic momentum will go unnoticed. In any case, you'll laugh so hard at the second act, an extended drunk scene for Julia and Jane, that you'll welcome the respite. Matthew Arbour, the director, has got the timing nailed...

Keith Huff, a Chicago playwright who also writes for "Mad Men," made it to Broadway in 2009 with "A Steady Rain," a two-man play about a pair of crooked beat cops that was mounted as a vehicle--and a powerfully potent one, too--for Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. I was so impressed by "A Steady Rain" that I resolved to seek out Mr. Huff's next play, which is what brought me to Chicago for the premiere of "Big Lake Big City," a black farce about a police detective (Philip R. Smith) whose wife (Katherine Cunningham), an ex-hooker turned dental technician, has taken a shine to a pathologist at the Cook County Morgue (Kareem Bandealy) whose own spouse (Beth Lacke) is a celebrity shrink and anti-death-penalty advocate with whom the detective in question has lately crossed swords.

Got that? If not, don't worry. Part of the point of "Big Lake Big City" is that it moves so fast that you have to scramble to keep up, and David Schwimmer (yes, the "Friends" guy) and Sibyl Wickersheimer, the director and set designer, have gone to much trouble to make sure that the show roars down the track like a bullet train....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted July 12, 2013 12:00 AM

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