FALLEN ANGELS, Writers' Theatre Chicago. A quip by W.S. Gilbert suits this delightful trifle perfectly: "Of course it's nonsense, but it's such precious nonsense." Noel Coward's 1923 comedy still teases and titillates, as two bored wives learn that the exotic French lover both knew before they married their duffer husbands has returned to London. His arrival not only kindles two old flames but sparks a new rivalry. "Ripe for a relapse," the women become coconspirators awaiting a rendezvous with their shared paramour: they get pleasantly potted, then maudlin and mean. Coward suggests sin so strongly that it would be overkill to actually show it--this spicy comedy is as much about psychology as sex.
Michael Halberstam's sprightly staging captures the naughtiness without courting cuteness. Annabel Armour goes nicely out of control as the timid wife suffering from a bad seven-year itch, while Linda Kimbrough as the flamboyantly dotty wife throws discretion to the winds, only to have it flung back at her; both "fallen angels" make much of their second-act tour de booze. Karen Janes Woditsch shows perfect comic timing as the saucy maid offering peerless and constant advice. Playing the clueless husbands, Mark Richard and Jeff Christian take everything for granted the way only insufferable Englishmen can, while Rom Barkhordar as their French nemesis exudes silky sensuality. Rick Paul's drawing-room set completes the merry make-believe, transforming this bookstore back room into a Mayfair masterpiece. --Lawrence Bommer