With each of its productions this season, the Huntington Beach Playhouse has reached further back into time. “The Sound of Music” echoed Hitler’s Germany, while “Arsenic and Old Lace” was set in Brooklyn during a similar period.
Now comes “My Three Angels,” and the time is 1910, on an island in French Guiana where the temperature on Christmas Eve is a balmy 105 degrees. Playwrights Samuel and Bella Spewack (best known for “Kiss Me, Kate”) adapted their gentle comedy from an earlier French play.
The “angels” are a trio of convicts — two murderers and an embezzler — working to fix up a small store operated by a naive French couple and their daughter. These are the good guys; the bad ones arrive later in the personages of the daughter’s fiancé and his money-grubbing uncle.
Director Gregory Cohen — more at home with a faster-paced, farcical vehicle — stages this leisurely comedy with a captivating charm. We quickly sympathize with the proprietors and discern that the daughter could do far better in the romantic arena.
Bill Vetro and Leslie Joyce enact the hapless mercantile operators with a guileless warmth. He’s completely lost and overly trusting in business matters, while she displays a sterner but deferential character.
It’s the convicts — Richard Hawkes, Tom Killam and Shane Cervantes — who take over the store, and the show. Hawkes excels as the numbers cruncher who virtually puts the business back on its feet with some savvy salesmanship worthy of Professor Harold Hill.
Killam is fine as the muscle of the outfit, while Cervantes stands out as the youngest of the trio, simmering over the daughter’s plight and somewhat warm for her himself. The three interact as a well-drilled ensemble, negotiating the talky and moralistic dialogue of the second act quite effectively.
Alyssa J. Witte is a breath of fresh air as the daughter, Marie Louise, dividing her performance between a sunny nature and overarching fatalism. She could reach a little further into caricature, yet her portrayal remains a delight.
Her erstwhile suitor is rendered with just enough traces of grim distaste to seal his character. His uncle, more of a study in cliched nastiness as written, is played by Stu Eriksen, who could do even more to underscore his mercenary nature.
Dropping by for cameo portrayals are Gwen Wooldridge as a chatty lady who runs up a sizable tab that she never can quite settle and Nathan Udria as a young lieutenant whose appearance seems predetermined by circumstances.
Andrew Otero’s period setting and costumes emphasize the long-ago nature of the period, abetted by Jon Hyrkas’ lighting and Dan Baird’s sound effects.
“My Three Angels” is an oldie (1953) that retains an enjoyable comedic charm while dispensing its wit and wisdom. It’s a nice way to celebrate Christmas out of season.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “My Three Angels”
WHO: Huntington Beach Playhouse
WHERE: Library Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through May 24
COST: $18 to $20
CALL: (714) 375-0696
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.