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'Laughter' brightens holidays

By Joanne Greco Rochman, Republican-American


Noel Coward's "Present Laughter" arrives at the New Milford TheatreWorks just in time to bring plenty of color, comedy and class to the holiday season.

A large cast full of quirky characters who often find themselves in awkward situations is not only cause for laughter, but the stuff that good comedies are made of. Long considered autobiographical with Coward's life similar to his character Garry Essendine's life. Both have been described as "subject to casual sex partners" and in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Even Coward's real life secretary is the model for Garry's secretary Monica, capable and unflappable.

Jonathan Jacobson is the egotistical celebrity Garry in the TheatreWorks production. Jacobson has that "I'm a star" attitude about him that is more charming than annoying. Therefore, we can't help but like him even though he plays his stardom to the hilt. Robyn Maitland as Gary's separated, and sensible wife Liz is delightfully believable as the voice of reason. Her most pleasant performance fits like a soft silk glove.

Janice Connor, always a bit eccentric is perfectly cast in the role of Monica, the overwhelmed secretary who adds a burst of comedy each time she enters the scene fumbling and mumbling about. Connor is on target when it comes to delivering the comic goods.

Gloria Antonios plays Daphne, the star struck young woman madly infatuated with Garry, while LuAnn Leonard as Joanna is a sex siren from hell. Leonard moves like a leopard as she stalks her prey in a slinky black skin tight gown. There's no doubt about it, Leonard plays Joanna with fierce sensuality. Glenn R. Couture, president of the theater's board of directors, punctuates the cast with a whimsical and priceless portrayal of Fred, the butler who is never around when the doorbell rings, but ever ready with a witty remark.

Unfortunately Jacky Saulnier's performance as the impudent maid is hidden by her outrageous costume, which is completely out of sync with the rest of this production. As is, she looks like she belongs in an old Carol Burnett sitcom and not in a Noel Coward comedy.

Sheila Echevarria has a similar fate, since her costume is so out of character for someone named Lady Saltburn. The fit is off enough to suggest that she looks more like a bag lady than an aristocrat. Mind you, this is not faulting their performances, but their costumes which eradicated their performances. I can't imagine what costume designers Glenn R. Couture and Susan Pettibone were thinking.

Chris Bolster as Roland, the obsessed wannabe playwright, doesn't have any costume problems, and that's not because he is stark naked in the final scene. His character is such a weirdo that just about anything would be a perfect fit. Bolster adds a breath of fresh air to the cast with his sudden switch of moods. His performance is hilarious. J. Scott Williams as Morris and Tony Saracino round off the cast.

Ironically, Roland and Daphne are left behind closed doors at the play's end, which symbolically marks an end to Garry's wild lifestyle and Noel Coward's as well.

The play essentially leaves past bad behaviors behind and moves out into a new time and place.

Glenn R. Couture's set design is exquisite, tastefully decorated and just what one would expect a celebrity's living room to look like in 1946. Thomas Libonate's lighting design and Richard Pettibone and Frank Russo's sound design accent the set beautifully. Beth Bonnabeau is to be commended for directing this show with a touch of unmistakable Noel Coward class.

Best of all, this is a fun production of a class act comedy perfect for leaving behind 2011 and moving into 2012.

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