MY THREE ANGELS, Next Theatre Company. In the annual scramble for holiday plays, the company that brought us The Front Page in 1996 has once again opted for a vintage American comedy largely ignored on the professional circuit–though it was made into a movie featuring Humphrey Bogart, We’re No Angels, in 1955. Based on Albert Husson’s La cuisine des anges, this 1953 screwballer by the venerable writing team of Sam and Bella Spewack is set in 1910 French Guiana, where a kindhearted storekeeper finds his family’s happiness threatened on Christmas Eve by a heartless boss. Rescue arrives literally from above in the unlikely persons of three convicts from a nearby prison who’ve come to repair the shopkeeper’s roof: their criminal talents are perfectly suited to the task of putting things right for their hosts.

Next Theatre director Sarah Tucker keeps the pace brisk without ever allowing the mayhem to careen out of control–even when a squawking fowl is smuggled across the room. As the trio of amoral “angels,” Michael Nowak, Ian Christopher, and Kevin Theis display precision comic timing while maintaining a firm hold on their characters, who provide some of the play’s funniest moments, as when the con artist morosely allows an embezzlement opportunity to slip by. Providing formidable opposition is Roderick Peeples in another of his splendid turns as a big, blustering bully. Though his comeuppance might be deemed too severe, the end more than justifies the means in the giddy logic of this universe.

–Mary Shen Barnidge