‘Present Laughter’ is an Early Holiday Gift - Noel Coward’s light comedy comes to life at TheatreWorks New Milford
Knowledgeable theatergoers will thoroughly enjoy Present Laughter, an amusing two-act comedy by legendary playwright Noël Coward, now on stage at TheatreWorks New Milford.
Like a Robert Ludlum novel, the play starts out slowly, introducing characters and presenting necessary background details – all to set the stage for the inevitable, fast-paced climax. Once the tale picks up speed about half way though, it accelerates into a frenzy of comedic activity.
The story centers on a few days in the life of Garry Essendine, a successful but pampered and self-obsessed actor who is preparing for a trip to Africa and a lengthy tour. Modeled after Coward himself, Essendine must deal with a series of farcical events that interrupt his idyllic life. These include a beautiful young woman who hopes to seduce him, a crazed and eager young playwright seeking attention and guidance, a long-suffering secretary and household staff who have seen it all many times before, and the return of his estranged wife. And it all occurs while Essendine is pre-occupied with the inevitable approach of middle age.
When Essendine's wife, business agents, and various admirers all arrive at his home at the same time, the cat-and-mouse hilarity bursts forth as he and his staff juggle the competing interests.
The play, of course, can only be as good as the actor in the key Coward-esque role – and it is masterfully portrayed by Jonathan Jacobson, a resident of Litchfield who is making his debut on the TheatreWorks stage. An Ivy League graduate, Mr. Jacobson is an accomplished actor with an array of impressive regional theater performances to his credit. A natural intellect, he portrays the preening, posturing, self-absorbed Essendine with just the right amount of self-deprecating buffoonery.
Janice Connor of Goshen plays Monica, Essendines's devoted secretary. Ms. Connor is superbly adept at portraying the comic character who possesses the patience of Job while coping with the endless farcical interruptions that comprise Essendine's life.
Robyn Maitland of New Fairfield is Essendine's estranged wife Liz, who loves him in an awkward 'can't live with him, but can't live without him' sort of way. Ms. Maitland is wholly believable as the wife who is caught between the real man and the charismatic star.
LuAnn Leonard of New Milford is a former Rockette and veteran stage performer who has appeared on Broadway. She is delicious as the sultry, sexy Joanna, the wife of Essendine's manager. Joanna is already involved in another affair with her husband's partner, but decides to seduce Essendine as well. Eva Gabor played the role in 1958 and Ms. Leonard brings a touch of Eva's elegance and humor and updates it with bit of the urbane sophistication that Vanessa Williams displays in the popular TV series "Ugly Betty."
Chris Bolster of New Milford is superb in his debut on the TheatreWorks stage as the crazed, a.k.a. gay, young playwright Roland Maule, who is desperately seeking Essendine's attention. Coward wrote the play in 1939 when homosexuality wasn't openly portrayed, so abundant eccentricity masked the orientation. Noted actor Nathan Lane played the role in 1982 in his debut on Broadway.
Gloria Antonios of Thomaston, just a college freshman, is absolutely refreshing as Daphne, the star-struck ingénue who mistakenly believes she is the first to "forget her latch key" as a way to capture Essendine's amorous attention. She displays a wonderful comedic flair in her monologue on the stairway to Essendine's bedroom.
Rounding out the cast is J. Scott Williams of Brookfield as Morris and Tony Saracino of New Milford as Hugo. The two portray Essendine's manager and producer and both are first rate. Also adding spark are Jacky Sauliner of Danbury as Miss O'Doyle the housekeeper and Glenn R. Couture of Ansonia (who is also president of TheatreWorks and aided costume and set design) as Fred the butler. Both bring a fabulous sense of haughty irreverence to their supporting roles.
There's nothing in Present Laughter that "is going to help people or make them think," as one character wryly observes. But as Director Beth Bonnabeau has pointed out, "what is wrong with wit and laughter, especially during the Holidays?" To her credit, she has assembled a production that resembles "a fizzy glass of champagne – it keeps tickling your noise and makes you laugh." And if the final scene in this play doesn't surprise you, nothing will!