Thursday, April 06, 2017

I loved Present Laughter

Present Laughter Shimmers with Kevin Kline and Kate Burton

Character Garry Essendine, the heart of Present Laughter, is a handsome leading man, getting a little long in the tooth. Actor Kevin Kline fills the character with joy, wit and a good dollop of ham, making the rather annoying character of Garry, quite charming. It is said that Nöel Coward wrote Present Laughter, in part, as autobiography; if so it is in able hands with Mr. Kline.

Present Laughter is a traditional “British Drawing Room Comedy” bordering on farce. To be honest, the farcical aspects don’t hold up nearly as well on the stage as the more verbose comedy sections. It opens as a young woman, seemingly one of a number, exits the spare room having spent the night with world famous actor, Mr. Garry Essendine. This particular young lady, Daphne Stillington, is well played by Tedra Millan. Ms. Millan displays the correct amount of hopeful young exuberance and slightly annoyed jilted lover moments to be funny and believable.

Kristine Nielsen, Kate Burton, Kevin Kline (photo Joan Marcus)
Mr. Essendine’s staff does not treat Daphne with the diffidence she expects. The house runs on the whims of Garry and the staff caters to those whims, not the women that show up randomly. Ellen Harvey and Matt Bittner do an excellent job as cook and butler. The penultimate indignity for Daphne is added by the way Garry’s assistant, Monica (a wonderful Kristine Nielsen). Monica treats young Daphne as a problem to be removed PDQ, as the entire house prepares for Garry’s acting tour of Africa. 

Kevin Kline, as Garry, enters and gently nudges Daphne out. You see Garry is loath to face conflict or anger, so he employs a number of strategies - not all fully in sync with the truth - to hasten Miss Stillington’s departure. Garry is aided in his quest by his semi-ex-wife, Liz, played marvelously by Kate Burton. The chemistry between Ms Burton and Mr. Kline sparkles. Daphne leaves, rather angry, and thus the stage is set for a repeat of the same scene, different person, later. 

Along with Liz and Monica, a producer and director round out the friends of Garry. The are a long standing bond of five friends who watch out for each other in general, and Garry in particular. Garry is treated rather as a spoiled child that must be entertained or at least distracted at all times.

Throwing a spanner into the works is Joanna, the producer’s wife. Cobie Smulders is beautiful forceful and sensuous as Joanna. It is hard to believe she won’t get what she wants, and here, it is Garry. Garry, and his inability to control his libido, falls prey to Joanna rather easily. The opening scene is then played off, this time with Joanna being the occupant of the spare room. Add in a random socialist dramatist, a healthy thirst for liquor and one member of peerage and you have all the ingredients needed for a wonderful show.

Cobie Smulders, Kevin Kline (photo by Joan Marcus)
Present Laughter is quite cleaver, bumbling around the edges of serious discussions regarding age, without every falling too far into them. Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel pulls the entire show off without seeming too old fashioned, just old fashioned enough for Broadway. The acting is wonderful although the harsh accent of the cook and the wandering accent of Ms Smulders are sometimes distracting. Like Blithe Spirit a few seasons ago, Present Laughter takes us back to a gentler time, when adultery was funny and showing too much emotion was déclassé. It is a well spent two hours.
Present Laughter | PlaywrightNöel Coward | DirectorMoritz Von Stuelpnagel | CastKevin Kline, Kate Burton, Kristine Neilsen, Cobie Smulders. Bhavesh Patel, Reg Rogers, Peter Frances James, Tedra Millan

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