`Three Angels' is little slice of heaven

Totem Pole presents a feel-good comedy from the more innocent 1950s


July 22, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

If angels exist, then they could presumably come in all sorts of forms. Along with chubby cherubim and sylph-like seraphim, why couldn't they be, well, prisoners?

Granted, the title of Sam and Bella Spewack's 1953 convict comedy, My Three Angels, is surely intended to be more metaphorical (and ironic) than literal. And in these more crime-ridden times, the idea of angel-convicts may be a tough sell. Yet the script's three prisoners have an indisputably uplifting effect on the mother, father and daughter at the center of the play.

What's more, this vintage comedy is receiving an almost heavenly production, under the gentle but assured direction of Baltimorean Wil Love at Totem Pole Playhouse, the summer theater in Pennsylvania's paradisiacal Caledonia State Park.

The Spewacks - whose best-known work is the book for the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate - were writing in a far less cynical era, and they set their play in the even more innocent year of 1910. The action takes place in the home of Felix Ducotel, manager of a general store in the penal colony of French Guiana.

On Christmas Eve, the Ducotels learn they are about to receive a visit from their cousin and absentee partner, Henri, who is coming from France to examine Felix's books. If he finds Felix's easygoing, credit-granting business practices lax, he'll probably kick the family out.

Enter Joseph, Alfred and Jules, a trio of philosophical convicts who do odd jobs for the Ducotels. By the end of the play, however, they've done a lot more than mend the roof. They've ensured the good fortune of the kind-at-heart and the ill fortune of their evil nemeses.

In the roles of these incarcerated Samaritans, director Love has cast three charmers, who truly seem more angelic than criminal. As smooth-talking Joseph - a sales whiz with a knack for cooking books - Larry Sharp has an affable, expressive face and a gracious manner. As Alfred, who offers romantic advice to Felix's lovelorn daughter, Robert Michael McClure is a wily sentimentalist. And as Jules, lanky Ray Ficca is a wistful seeker of the good life - just watch the way he melts into a comfortable chair.

Furthermore, Paris Peet's sweet-natured Felix, Ilona Dulaski as his devoted wife and Melissa Ortiz as their winsome daughter are thoroughly deserving of the trio's angelic attentions. It's unfortunate, however, that Robert Boardman saddles villainous Henri with the production's only French accent, and an uneven one at that. (Nor is it necessary to reinforce his character's noxious qualities by painting a skunk-like white streak across his hair.)

Spending an evening in the park, however, in the company of Joseph, Alfred, Jules and the Ducotels is a genuine pleasure. And if the warm weather doesn't transport you to the tropics, James Fouchard's beautifully detailed, bamboo-trimmed set will.

My Three Angels

Where: Totem Pole Playhouse, Caledonia State Park, 9555 Golf Course Road, Fayetteville, Pa., 15 miles west of Gettysburg

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; matinees at 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through July 31

Tickets: $23-$30

Call: 888-805-7056

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