Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Present Laughter"

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entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone

"Present Laughter"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

River Rep, the professional New York repertory theatre company's fourth production of their 18th summer season at the historic Ivoryton Playhouse is the madcap farce, "Present Laughter", by Noel Coward. It originally opened in London in 1942 with Noel Coward as Garry Essendine while the Broadway production opened on October 29, 1946, ran for 158 performances and starred Clifton Webb. This popular show was revived 3 more times on Broadway in 1958 with Noel Coward, in 1982 with George C. Scott and in 1996 with Frank Langella. "Present Laughter" is Noel Coward at his best. This farce contains razor-sharp repartee and barbs aimed at his entourage and himself as the pampered, adored but tempermental actor. (Coward acknowledged that Essendine is really himself.) The play is set in 1946 in Garry's London apartment as the actor is preparing for an extended tour in Africa. The plot reveals numerous complicated relationships including his estranged wife, a theater producer and his disenchanted wife who is having an affair with his partner, his 3 member staff, plus a star-struck young actress who has designs on him and her wealthy, elderly aunt and a foppish, young playwright who initially thinks the actor a hollow man but later admits his deep feelings for him while falling under Garry's spell. This show is a hidden gem of Coward's who wrote over sixty plays. Director Evan Thompson keeps this show moving from start to finish with Coward's intriguing and interesting characters, making this a splendid must see well written and well acted British farce with a topnotch cast in all 10 roles.

Evan gets the best out of his performers and makes each character unique. His blocking is the best I've seen with every inch of the stage utilized, keeping your interest at all times. Evan's strong hand also comes through with a cast that is well polished and rehearsed at an opening performance that is flawless.Deb Freeman is his stage manager who keeps things running smoothly backstage as well as onstage, too. Heading this cast is Warren Kelley as Garry Essendine. Warren is perfect as the egotistical, egomaniac Garry. He poses and postures on the stage as this vain actor. He constantly looks in the mirror, scolds everyone around him and has flings with a couple of women. Warren is a multitalented performer who can sing, act, dance, direct and produce a show with ease. He is nonstop in all these activities and he excells at each and every one of them. Warren's energy in this role is so strong, it could light up New York City. Bravo.

The effervescent, Julia Kiley plays Liz, Garry's estranged wife. Clad in a blonde wig and wearing some of the most gorgeous 1940's outfits, she is a wonderful match for Warren, getting the most out of her dialogue. Julia's real life niece, Courtney Shaw plays Daphne Stillington, the young actress who spent the night with Garry and vows to never leave his side. (Jan Sterling made her Broadway debut in this role.) She gives the role the strength it needs, giving Daphne a backbone to stand up to this womanizing, cad. One of the biggest scene stealers in this show is David Christopher Wells as Roland Maule, the nerdy, foppish young playwright who is mad about Garry in more ways than one. He is hilarious in this obsessive role where he changes moods constantly from sad to laughing in a loud honking bray. David's athleticism comes through as he climbs on tables and the sofa in pursuit of Garry. One of his funny bits includes his admission that he saw Garry in one show 47 times while neglecting his law studies. Nathan Lane made his Broadway debut as Roland Maule in the George C. Scott production in 1982 but David's splendid rendition makes this role his own. He usually plays dramatic characters like Romeo but this part shows he can handle comedy, too. Other scene stealers are Garry's staff members. Joan Shepard is Miss Erickson, the Scandanavian spiritualist maid, who is constantly smoking and elicts laughs each time she enters the stage. (She reminds you of Carol Burnett's scrubwoman) w Her stealing Garry's cigarettes is a laugh out loud moment in this. Jackie Sidle is Monica Reed, the secretary who battles verbally with Garry but defends him like a lioness, having worked for him the past 17 years. She delivers her sardonic lines wonderfully and makes this battleaxe type role very humorous especially when she contradicts and overrides Garry's orders. Fred, the valet is played by Arthur Pignataro who makes this man a happy go lucky guy who is never surprised by whoever Garry's has sleeping in the guest room in the morning. (Arthur is also the production manager of this show and has been at the theatre for the past 11 years.)

Jean Tafler plays the sexy, vampy Joanna who is married to one man but is having an affair with two other men at the same time. Clad in a redhaired wig, she makes this alluring woman of the 1940's come to life wonderfully and her dialogue with Warren sparkles with barbs and the repartee between two people who will soon be sleeping together. Her husband, Hugo who is Garry's producer is played by John Swanson who flies into a jealous rage at his wife's infidelities while he is cheating on her, too. Joanna's first lover, Morris is played by Owen Thompson who also flies into a rage when he discovers she is cheating on him with Garry. John and Owen make these two chauvanistic roles very funny with their delivery of their witty and biting dialogue. Last but not least is Jean DeGrooth as Lady Saltburn, Daphne's unsuspecting aunt who unwittingly brings her to audition for Garry after his fling with her. Jean plays the part to the hilt, fawning over the theatre people who are giving her niece the chance to audition for such talented and experienced creatures. So for an excellent British farce, be sure to catch "Present Laughter" at the airconditioned, Ivoryton Playhouse. Tell them Tony sent you. You definitely won't be disappointed.

"Present Laughter" (11 - 21 August)
Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, IVORYTON, CT
1 (860) 767-8348

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