Theater Review: THE ANGEL NEXT DOOR (North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach)

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by Dan Zeff on September 12, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego

SOMEONE MUST HAVE CLIPPED THE WINGS,
BECAUSE THIS ANGEL DOESN’T FLY

There are times when a reviewer is tempted to recuse himself (or herself) from publicly commenting on a comedy because he/she is unenthusiastic about a work that the audience apparently finds hilarious. Thus is my dilemma assessing North Coast Rep‘s The Angel Next Door, now receiving its world premiere in Solana Beach. I thought the play was mostly silly and I doubt I cracked more than a couple of smiles during the entire presentation. But the capacity audience laughed aplenty, expressing its pleasure as the play’s nonsense ascended.

James Newcomb, Taubert Nadalini, Barbara E. Robertson

The Paul Slade Smith script actually has narrative roots that extend back almost 100 years. Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár wrote a play in 1924 called, in English, Play at the Castle. Molnár was a Hungarian playwright of the Golden Age of Fluffy Theater, and in his latter years he was a grand screenwriter in New York, penning films for Grace Kelly and Margaret Sullivan. The English writer P. G. Wodehouse adapted it in 1926 as The Play’s the Thing, and it became perhaps the most popular version for decades. In 1984, the English playwright Tom Stoppard made his own adaptation, called Rough Crossing. And now The Angel Next Door.

James Newcomb, Erin Noel Grennan, Barbara E. Robertson

Each version explored the comic possibilities of a single plot line. A young writer overhears his lady friend in an intimate conversation with an obnoxious actor and goes to pieces, emotionally. The writer’s friends hit upon the idea of turning the erotic conversion into part of a fictional play and connive to convince the writer that what he heard the previous night wasn’t an actual sexual liaison but a scene from that play. The writer swallows the story and is reconciled with his lady friend, who is in on the scheme.

Thomas Edward Daugherty, James Newcomb

The Slade play is a farce, a branch of comedy that takes great liberties with the laws of probability. The North Coast production goes all out to keep the viewer laughing, never mind the comedy’s nonsensical underpinnings. However, Slade does slip some theater humor into the dialogue to provide a handful of adult chuckles amid all the low comedy sound and fury.

James Newcomb, Taubert Nadalini, Barbara E. Robertson

The play’s action takes place in a plush room in a ritzy hotel. Most viewers would concede that the funniest character in the show is a dour maid (Erin Noel Grennan), sporting a thick accent, possibly Eastern European. The maid wins the audience with her no-nonsense commentaries on all the balderdash generated by the other five. That quintet consists of the two actors who mastermind the plot (Barbara E. Robertson and James Newcomb), the duped young writer (Taubert Nadalini), his lady friend (Elinor Gunn) caught in a compromising situation with the philandering leading man (Thomas Edward Daughterty), who endures all manner of humiliations to extricate himself from his affair with the young writer’s lady friend. It might be noted at this point that farces are not noted for their plot simplicity or realism.

James Newcomb, Barbara E. Robertson, Erin Noel Grennan, Taubert Nadalini

David Ellenstein is the director and credit him and his ensemble for mostly keeping a straight face throughout the evening, generally refusing to mug or play for cheap laughs. Marty Burnett designed the stylish hotel interior and Elisa Benzoni the 1940s-era costumes. Matthew Novotny designed the lighting, Peter Herman the wigs and hairstyles, Cindy Rumley the props, Peter Herman the hair and wig designs, and Ian Scott the sound.

Thomas Edward Daugherty, Elinor Gunn

So it is what it is. The crowd at my Saturday afternoon matinee clearly loved the play and loudly applauded the cast at the final bows. Audiences at the Laguna Playhouse will likely put their stamp of approval on the production when it transfers to that theater for a run from October 18 to November 5.

photos by Aaron Rumley

The Angel Next Door
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach (San Diego)
Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat and Sun at 2 & 7; Wed at 2 (select dates)
ends on October 8, 2023
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Milo September 17, 2023 at 11:08 am

Wow, Dan and I are different in our opinions. My friend and I were definitely more in the audience’s majority on this one. In fact, my friend liked it so much that he bought two front row seats for a few weeks from now to take someone else! Held me the whole time with some big laughs. Absolutely old-fashioned corn and not at all believable, but such fun!

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Tony September 17, 2023 at 11:12 am

Interesting. I’m siding with Dan on this one. Yes, there were some laughs from the maid, but it just kinda sat there for me. When a farce is believable, then it can soar. Ah, well. As Dan said, “It is what it is.”

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