Story: Three prisoners at a penal colony in French Guiana are on loan fixing a roof for a local merchant, the kindly Felix Ducotel. Two of the convicts are in prison for murder and the other is an accountant who was caught cooking the company books, but escape isn’t much of an option, enabling the prison to farm out its captives for menial labor.
Working at Ducotel’s home and business on Christmas Eve, the three inmates—Joseph, Jules and Alfred—befriend the merchant, his dutiful wife Emilie and beautiful daughter Marie Louise. The latter is in love with a distant lad named Paul, who is due to visit the Ducotels with his demanding uncle, Henri, a cousin of Felix’s who also happens to own the Ducotel business. When the unpleasant Henri and his timid nephew arrive unexpectedly late on Christmas Eve, and Henri makes all manner of nasty demands and threats, the three prisoners decide to ‘help’ Felix and his family in their own fashion.
Highlights: Samuel and Bella Spewack are best known for their collaboration on the book for Kiss Me, Kate, but they also wrote a number of plays, with My Three Angels being the most successful. The 1953 work was turned into a 1955 film called We’re No Angels, with Humphrey Bogart in a rare comic role. St. Louis Actors’ Studio is offering a delightful, charming version of the old-fashioned yarn under the fine directorial eye of Elizabeth Helman and an expert cast that makes this an unexpected holiday treat.
Other Info: Christie Johnston’s classy set focuses on the Ducotel living room, with a beaded curtain that serves as an entrance into the unseen shop. The furniture and other props provided by Robert VanDillen are simple and functional, as you’d expect for a modest merchant, while the costumes designed by Teresa Doggett range from the drab stripes of the convicts to the fine dresses and suits adorning the ladies and gentlemen. Steve Miller’s unobtrusive lighting and Robin Weatherall’s subtle sound design suitably complement proceedings.
Helman expertly paces the three acts in the two-and-a-half-hour comedy, allowing for a comfortable and engaging experience. It’s appealing primarily because of the strong ensemble effort of her nine players, each of whom contributes greatly to the show’s success.
The pivotal role of Joseph is mined precisely by the deft and droll Whit Reichert for every ounce of its humor. Reichart’s nuanced portrayal benefits from his carefully intoned delivery as well as his impish looks of glee when assuming the role of the consummate salesman or concocting a scheme to rid the Ducotels of the insidious Henri.
He’s more than ably backed up by Garrett Bergfeld and Dan Mueller, who play murderers middle-aged and youthful, respectively, each a perpetrator of le crime passionnel involving their true loves back in France. Bergfeld as Jules shines in a particularly poignant scene with Penney Kols as Emilie, the long-suffering but faithful wife of Felix, and also is adept at expert comic timing. Mueller plays Alfred as a gallant lad determined to see Marie Louise in a happy romantic relationship, even if it can’t be with him.
Larry Dell is smooth and endearing as the honest-to-a-fault Felix, while Emily Baker is effervescent as the kind-spirited and idealistic Marie Louise. Kols shows her own considerable range as the restrained but strong-willed Emilie, while Richard Lewis is the epitome of cultivated nastiness as the menacing and unrepentant Henri.
Casey Boland scores both as the weak and surprisingly vile Paul and a handsome young lieutenant who pays an unexpected visit. Teresa Doggett completes the ensemble in two wonderfully played scenes as a local busybody who expects something for nothing and is surprised if things don’t go her way.
Entertaining, elegant and ebullient, St. Louis Actors’ Studio’s interpretation of My Three Angels is one of the season’s most surprising and satisfying concoctions.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5
Group: St. Louis Actors’ Studio
Venue: Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle
Dates: December 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18
Tickets: Contact 458-2978, 1-800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com
Photos courtesy of John Lamb