Photo: Aaron Rumley.

The Angel Next Door

a World Premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre, San Diego

Written by:
Lynne Friedmann
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A man writes a novel based on a woman he idolizes. A playwriting duo crafts a script based on the book draft and envisions it going straight to Broadway and critical acclaim. Unfortunately, the author’s love is unrequited, the book has no publisher, the play has no producers and the only copy of the typewritten manuscript is in danger of vanishing.

Words on paper got everyone into this mess. Can a rewrite save the day in the screwball comedy “The Angel Next Door,” a world premiere at North Coast Rep.

The story unfolds in the luxurious guest suite of a Newport, Rhode Island, mansion where husband-and-wife writers Charlotte (Barbara E. Robertson) and Arthur Sanders (James Newcomb) await the arrival of friend Oliver Adams (Taubert Nadalini). The Sanders are in town to attend a concert featuring singer-actress Margot Bell (Elinor Gunn), the object of Oliver’s desires. The Sanders rhapsodize about how wonderfully the weekend will unfold as if they are editing, scene by scene, one of their plays.

Soon after his arrival, Oliver becomes aware that Margot has taken up occupancy in the adjoining bedroom with Victor Pratt (Thomas Edward Daugherty), a dimwit who fancies himself as “Broadway’s greatest baritone.” What is heard through the paper-thin walls is not two singers practicing scales. Oliver is destroyed and tears up the unsigned book contract he received earlier in the day, eating the paper scraps like a spy in a Cold War novel. Charlotte and Arthur forcefully remove the only copy of the book’s manuscript from Ollie’s hands, lest he turn it into a Big Mac.

At that moment, a loud concussive rap on the Sanders’ door announces the arrival of Olga (Erin Noel Grennan), a dour house servant with an utter disdain of “theater people.” Grennan plays Olga to the hilt, and just hearing this distinctive KNOCK … KNOCK … KNOCK in subsequent scenes is enough to set the audience howling. High marks to sound designer Ian Scott.

Suffice to say, there are as many subplots in the story as there are doors in the opulent set designed by Marty Burnett. Embedding the story in the 1940s are era-worthy details, such as a rotary-dial cradle telephone, coupe champagne glasses and a leather valise to carry the pivotal book manuscript (prop design by Cindy Rumsley). Button-down shirts and dress pants count as relaxed weekend garb for the men, a tailored skirted suit is Charlotte’s daywear and evenings usher forth tuxedos and floor-length gowns all courtesy of costume designer Elisa Benzoni. Cascading tresses for Margot and bobby-pin curls for Charlotte are the work of hair-and-wig designer Peter Herman. Lighting design by Matthew Novotny.

“The Angel Next Door” is fast-paced, witty, wacky and an absolute winner! The cracker-jack cast is dexterous, engaging and comedically firing on all cylinders under the assured direction of David Ellenstein.

by Lynne Friedmann

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