KPBS AIRDATE: December 15, 1993
“My 3 Angels” ain’t “Kiss Me Kate,” though the writers are the same. But, in all fairness, Sam and Bella Spewack wrote the comedy alone, and with the musical, they had seriously clever backup from the incomparable Cole Porter. “My 3 Angels” may be silly, but it’s light, frothy Christmas fare, and it goes down easily. Especially in the North Coast Repertory Theatre production.
First presented in 1953, the piece is based on a French play, and was recently adapted to the screen by David Mamet, in an unrecognizable version called “We’re No Angels.” The unlikely cherubs of the title are three convicts, murderers on loan from the Bastille, doing time in a French Guiana penal colony. They may be killers, but they manage to create a pretty perfect Christmas for the family whose roof they happen to be fixing: the bumbling, hapless Felix Ducotel and his hand-wringing wife and love-sick daughter.
I think I must have been in Solana Beach on an off-night, because there were a surprising number of line-flubs for this normally highly professional theater company. One provided unexpected humor, when a convict presents Mrs. Ducotel with a flower and says, ceremoniously, “An orchid for the lady.” Without skipping a beat, the lady looks at the flower and then stares at its donor and marvels, “I’ve never seen a more beautiful organ!” I guffawed. The cast kept its cool. But good thing it was just about the end of the act. For a while, I was more interested in knowing what might’ve been going on backstage than on. Well, it’s moments like these, humorous and unintended, that make theater the never-ending source of surprise that it is.
Under Olive Blakistone’s direction, the first act of “My 3 Angels” darts along at a delirious pace, though things dip in the second, expository act and then bounce back for the big finish. Whenever the lawbreakers are afoot, everything hums. Particularly engaging are Jim Johnston as Joseph, the ultimate scam-man, and John Christopher Guth as Jules, a gentle guy more interested in solace than ‘solitary.’ The conmen manage to appropriate a Christmas tree and a Christmas bird, they make the dinner, significantly increase sales in the general store run by the Ducotels, and deal ever-so-effectively, as only murderers can, with supercilious Uncle Henri and his twit of a nephew, Paul. But they also arrange for a love tryst, and restore hope to a despairing family. Ah, they just don’t make criminals like they used to.
If you can buy all that, and don’t mind swallowing huge helpings of implausibility, this holiday standard should give you a bellyful of laughs. The production isn’t perfect, but the set and costumes look great. Most Christmas offerings are so syrupy they give you a stomach ache. Here, the sugar coating is tinged with arsenic, yet the play is thoroughly digestible.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.