Review: North Coast Rep’s new farce ‘Angel Next Door’ mostly delivers reliable laughs
Paul Slade Smith’s theatrical comedy was inspired by a 100-year-old play by Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar
At the risk of over-complicating what is otherwise a frothy 1940s farce, Paul Slade Smith’s “The Angel Next Door” is a play within a play within a play.
From the very beginning of this world-premiere comedy at North Coast Repertory Theatre, married playwrights Charlotte and Arthur Sanders (Barbara E. Robertson and James Newcomb) regard the Rhode Island mansion bedroom that is the play’s setting as a theater. For one thing, they’re trying to decide whether the “audience members” to whom they’re playing are the walls of the well-appointed salon behind them or the picture windows looking out on the Atlantic — which happen to be the actual audience at the North Coast Rep.
Furthering this gambit, the hyper-clever Charlotte will stay up all night writing a mini-play designed to untangle the misunderstanding mess that threatens the success of their young protégé novelist, Oliver (Taubert Nadalini). Its performance, staged in what has to be the busiest bedroom on the East Coast, will also determine whether the Sanderses get a shot at writing a Broadway hit based on Ollie’s book.
These intertwining premises wrap around what is at heart an old-fashioned love story: Is dashing but shy Oliver destined to find happiness with Margot (Elinor Gunn), the stunning singer-actress who is the “angel” of his novel, a woman he’s met only once but has been corresponding with in letters?
Smith has a solid track record at North Coast Rep. Both his “Unnecessary Farce” in 2015 and “The Outsider” in pre-pandemic 2020 were hits in Solana Beach. So it’s not surprising that “The Angel Next Door,” which was commissioned by artistic director David Ellenstein (who also directs this production), was chosen to launch the theater’s 42nd season.
“Angel” is in the intentionally hapless spirit of those two other comedies and like them reliant on broad characters and fast-paced situations that are more than a bit wacky.
This is Smith’s first adaptation of someone else’s play: Hungarian Ference Molnar’s century-old “Play At The Castle.” Smith’s play at the mansion even comes with a couple of sly and subtle references to its predecessor.
The business of bringing Oliver and Margot together feels strained over the course of two acts and two hours. It’s such exhausting work for bound-and-determined Charlotte and exasperated Arthur. Fortunately, Robertson and especially Newcomb make these two fun to watch. Quibbling or scheming affectionately, their romance is much more genuine than the contrived Oliver/Margot coupling.
As Margot’s dashing dolt of a lover Victor Pratt, Thomas Edward Daugherty gets ample scenery to chew, though nothing compared to Erin Noel Grennan as the mansion’s servant-of-all-trades Olga.
Glaring, snipping, dismissing and openly contemptuous of the “theater people” she’s waiting on, Olga’s every entrance and exit in Act One is comedic gold. That loses some of its luster in the second act when she’s too immersed in the goings-on, to the point of dominating the climactic play-within-a-play scene.
On second thought, so what? Grennan’s Olga brings the loudest laughs in “The Angel Next Door.” Let her bring ‘em.
‘The Angel Next Door’
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 1
Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
Phone: (858) 481-1055
Coddon is a freelance writer.
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