On my way to the opening night of Studio Players' latest production, My Three Angels, I passed a sign advertising a live Christmas tree lot coming soon. Even though it's early November, retailers are preparing for their biggest season. The same goes for theater.
Most area theaters feature a holiday-themed production, and Studio Players is usually the first of the season, scheduling a play in November before people become oversaturated with tinsel, shopping, parties and food.
This year's play is a refreshing departure from the typical Christmas stage show. A playful, light-hearted comedic romp about unconventional notions of justice and redemption, My Three Angels has no snow or Santa Claus. Far from it.
First produced in 1953, the play is Samuel and Bella Spewack's adaptation of the French La Cuisine des anges by Albert Husson — and that adaptation was adapted into the 1955 movie We're No Angels, starring Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov.
It is set in a stifling 104 degrees on the French colony of Cayenne, an island that also happens to be a prison colony with a unique justice system. After the convicts have served some time in prison, they are free to roam the island, taking odd jobs and surviving by whatever means necessary.
The exiled prisoners form a class of cheap labor, the kind the Ducotel family takes advantage of to repair the roof of their failing shop. But when the French family extends some Christmas kindness to three convicts, they repair more than the roof.
In a hilarious and ironic plot twist, the convicts become metaphorical angels, restoring the family's business and love lives with highly entertaining, well-intentioned meddling.
For instance, when shop owner Felix Ducotel's (Greg Waltermire) hapless bookkeeping and atrocious salesmanship land him in hot water, merciful business-fraud convict Joseph (Kelly Hale) appears, with a penchant for cooking the books.
Hale paints Joseph as a deliciously cunning but illegally inclined do-gooder who relishes the chance to use the business tactics that landed him in prison. His performance, and those of Evan Sullivan and Spencer McGuire as the other angels, are the driving force of the show.
Sullivan brings an air of refinement and sincerity to his role as a reformed murderer, and McGuire portrays fellow killer Alfred with charming brawn, if there is such a thing, rounding out the trio of angels.
Their collective performance stands apart from the remaining cast members, who are spirited but uneven in their roles. Not unlike the band of convicts they portray, Hale, Sullivan and McGuire are a tight-knit group. Their characters' camaraderie and unity is palpable throughout the show.
Ross Carter directs the show with an eye for creating laugh-getting visuals, such as when the convicts make their entrance as a pair of legs dangling from the ceiling, or when Jules rushes across the stage with a stolen chicken.
But Carter clearly understands that the deeper message in the Spewacks' fluffy comedy is that the convicts are in many ways morally superior to the "regular" people they serve. They have no hope of improving their lives, but they nonetheless experience redemption by their actions, even if their methods are hilariously questionable.