Noel Coward's romp 'Present Laughter' at TheatreWorks
New Milford's TheatreWorks is currently treating audiences to a delightful comedy by that national treasure of English drama, Noel Coward. Long acknowledged as one of his country's outstanding wits, raconteurs, directors, diarists, letter-writers and actors, Coward's humor still stands up as a timeless expression of its author's talent.
"Present Laughter," is a Coward drama bursting with delicious combinations of sophisticated wit and situational foible so characteristic of the playwright's other works. Authored in 1939 and first performed in 1942, it reaches another level of dramatic artifice, in comparison with memorable works like "Private Lives," "Blithe Spirit," or "Design For Living."
First, it has more characters. Second, it more closely resembles farce (as commemorated in the French tradition of Georges Feydeau, in which characters enter and exit doors to broadcast or hide their presence). In the New Milford production, there are five or six doors situated within a handsome set that represents the flat of the comedy's hero, Garry Essendine (played with the requisite air of narcissism and feigned innocence of a perennial put-upon by Jonathan Jacobson).
Garry seems to have an aptitude for attracting women who either want to seduce him or become forever attached to him, as houseflies to sticky paper. (I could have said as moths to flame, were it not that no one seems to be permanently damaged by her relationship to Garry -- including his separated wife, Liz (played in an commendably understated way by Robyn Maitland).
Garry is an actor who is having some difficulty accepting his advancing age -- as gauged by his addiction to occasional preening before mirrors, not to mention prancing around in yet another natty bathrobe. All the same, he seems to be fair game for three kinds of women: Liz, the doting wife who is devoted to him however temporarily disengaged; his household staff, consisting of a secretary, Monica (played with a sardonic streak to die for by Janice Connor); a maid (played by Jacky Saulnier with a dangling cigarette and world-weary mien), and sirens who have some raging hormones to contribute to the mix. These are: Daphne (played by Gloria Antonios), a much younger enthusiast forever on the brink of tears over rejection, and Joanna, a temptress (played with archly devised sensuality by LuAnn Leonard).
Other admirers include Fred the butler (played cheekily by Glenn R. Couture), Lady Saltburn (Daphne's high-placed mother), and Roland, a virtual wreck of a novice playwright (played by Chris Bolster with a spin on characterization faintly reminiscent of Pee Wee Herman, with bow tie, tight fitting pants and spastic ambulation.)
Joanna's occasional husband, Morris, is played by J. Scott Williams as though tribulations in his relationship with Joanna were of Wagnerian proportions, while Hugo (played by Tony Saracino), is himself revealed to be a sometime player underneath his facade of respectability.
Director Beth Bonnabeau's cast acquits itself well in the Coward comedy, although the temptation to overact on occasion overwhelmed some characterizations.