Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cloverdale Playhouse: "My Three Angels"

Disclosure: the reviewer is a member of the Board of Directors of The Cloverdale Playhouse.

In an anniversary tribute to a production 40 years ago at the Montgomery Little Theatre, Eleanor K. Davis is directing a charming family-friendly staging of Samuel and Bella Spewack's 1953 My Three Angels at The Cloverdale Playhouse. -- Her ensemble of ten actors includes four who are new to the Playhouse, though they are no strangers to the stage; they represent an ever expanding number of River Region artists who ensure a healthy theatre community.

With Ed Fieder's detailed set and Danny Davidson's exquisite period costumes, audiences are transported to Christmas 1910 on a tropical island where the temperature is 105 degrees, and where shop owner Felix Ducotel's [Scot Purkeypile] generosity is exploited by just about everyone as he extends credit to the pretentious Mrs. Parole [Rachael Dotson], and rarely even checks his books. His wife Emilie [Mariah Reilly] tolerates his good nature, and daughter Marie Louise [Cathy Ranieri] is more intent on seeing her fiance who is set to return to the island.

When they discover that Felix's cousin Henri Trochard [Adam Shephard] and nephew, Marie Louise's intended, Paul [Bo Jinright] intend to bilk Felix of home and property, no one knows what to do.

Enter the "three angels" of the title -- convicts from the local Devil's Island penal colony who are on work-release repairing Felix's roof -- who, having overheard their predicament, descend from above and determine to help set things aright. After all, these modern Magi might  have committed crimes, but have a sense of justice and altruism.

Joseph [Mark Hunter] is an adept forger and adroit con-man, while Jules [Scott Page] and Alfred [Tate Pollock] are both murderers; yet, their good-humored sense of honor and compassion for good people who might be hurt by the nefarious dealings of greedy relatives get audiences on their side immediately. They make no bones about the crimes that put them in prison, but as Jules says at one point: "Our world is just like yours, except we got caught" -- a refrain that could be applied to much of what is going on in the world today.

The play's fairly long exposition is handled well by Mr. Purkepyle, his lack of business acumen is matched by a distracted air that one can't help but to feel sorry for Felix and his predicament; and the clear affection he shows for his wife and daughter makes us wish him to succeed. -- In contrast, Mr. Shephard's Henri is so arrogant and ruthless from the start, getting us to root against him and even more for Felix.

As it becomes clear that Paul is no longer interested in Marie Louise [and convict Alfred is], the convicts become even more dedicated to helping the Ducotel family. -- This wily threesome are a delight to watch as they cleverly insinuate themselves into Felix's shop and family affairs, all the while taking no credit for anything. Mr. Page and Mr. Pollock are understated in their performances, and there are some sweetly innocent romantic scenes between Alfred and Marie Louise and between Jules and Emilie. The wholesomeness of these scenes is touching.

Mr. Hunter's depiction of Joseph's many skills in "salesmanship", presented with a self-assured posture and off-the-cuff delivery of his character's witticisms, take focus for much of the plot contrivances and humor. One of them many highlights of this delightful production.

Of course, the bad guys get their comeuppances [with the help of the three angels and a pet snake named Adolph]; and Mr. Jinright almost steals the show with his lengthy and physically impressive death-scene. -- With Henri and Paul out of the way, and Felix's business seeming to gain a foothold under Joseph's guidance, all that is left is to find a suitable mate for Marie Louise. Though this is not assured, the unexpected deus ex machina entrance of a handsome Lieutenant [Michael Buchanan] wearing a dress white uniform signals an instant spark of interest from Marie Louise.

Ms. Davis directs this determinedly heart-felt script with an affection that is contagious. Whether we believe that the ends justify the means, the unabashed good nature of the story and of the actors who perform in it under her guidance have audiences laughing and cheering the results.