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A Gift Of "Laughter" In New Milford

By Julie Stern, The Newtown Bee


NEW MILFORD – This year TheatreWorks New Milford has forsworn the Christmas themed holiday show in favor of Present Laughter, a frothy comedy by Noel Coward. Admittedly colored by autobiographical implications, the play revolves around a vain, self-absorbed, and highly successful matinee idol, whose approaching mid-life crisis (he's turning forty) has made him vulnerable to the seductive attentions of an inordinate number of women – whom he reluctantly beds and quickly abandons.Garry Essendine's preparations for a theatrical tour of Africa are constantly interrupted by the arrival of people wanting his time and attention, using various ploys to gain entrance to his London flat. Unable to say No, he parks them in the spare bedroom, relying on his faithful secretary Monica, and his estranged wife Liz, to get them out of his hair. A spare bedroom, occupied by young women in silk men's pajamas is an obvious vehicle for farce, which this play sort of is, although not as snappy as Neil Simon's best efforts.

'A separate plot thread is provided by a young male playwright, Roland Maule, who has inveigled his way in by convincing the secretary that Garry has promised to read his script. When Garry tells him that the script is abominable, the young man confesses to being madly in love with him.

The emphasis is put on the "madly" — in the context of the play, Roland is clearly crazy, as demonstrated by his professions of love for another man. However, this is a concession to the time when the play was first presented in London(1942): Noel Coward was definitely gay, but homosexuality was a criminal offense in 1940s England, punishable by lengthy prison sentences. In fact, it has been speculated by many that the female characters in the play are thinly veiled portraits of Coward's male acquaintances.

As directed by Beth Bonnabeau, this production benefits from some excellent acting, especially by Robyn Maitland as Liz Essendine, and Janice Connor as Monica, both of whom have a riveting presence on the stage. Glen Couture as Fred, an all-knowingly raffish butler, and Tony Saracino as Hugo, Garry's producer (who has a charming ability to turn himself purple when he throws a tantrum), are also excellent in smaller parts.

In the central role of Garry himself, Jonathan Jacobson does a good job at portraying a caricature. The constant tossing of his head and gazing at his profile in the mirror make it a little difficult to take seriously the idea that he is so attractive to all his would-be lovers.

LuAnn Leonard is wickedly outrageous as Hugo's wife, and Chris Bolster exposes himself daringly as Roland.

Glen Couture is also responsible for the lovely set, and along with Susan Pettibone costume design. When you see Liz Essendine's outfits – especially the tri-colored shoes and the polka dot dress – you just know it's the 1940s, and you're back in England again.

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