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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
PRESENT LAUGHTER
at the American Airlines Theatre

HAMMING IT UP
By BILL STEVENSON


It's no wonder Present Laughter is one of Noël Coward's most frequently produced plays. It's funny, frothy, and offers a delectable central role, Garry Essendine, a vain but lovable actor-writer based on Coward himself. The Roundabout's entertaining revival offers the wonderful Victor Garber as Essendine, and the role fits him like a glove. Although director Nicholas Martin lets the supporting cast act in different styles, accents, and degrees of campiness, Garber is never less than winning.

Sporting elegant 1930s smoking jackets and dressing gowns (courtesy of Jane Greenwood), Garber's self-involved and self-pitying Essendine looks right at home in the glitzy, grand Deco flat designed by Alexander Dodge. All the actors look smart in their vintage duds, but some make more of an effort to sound British than others. As a result, it's somewhat difficult to believe the action is taking place in London rather than in New York (or a fictional mid-Atlantic theater capital.)

Regardless of his accent, Garber has a high old time as the melodramatic, always theatrical Essendine. As other characters frequently point out, he is always acting whether onstage or off. Garber even gets a chance to show off his singing chops when he sings the well-chosen Coward tune "World Weary." Roundabout regular Harriet Harris is just right as his trusty secretary, Monica Reed, and Lisa Banes is drolly jaded as estranged wife Liz Essendine (who still gets tangled up in Garry's affairs, business and otherwise). Nancy E. Carroll gets laughs as his odd housekeeper/spiritualist Miss Erikson, and Alice Duffy fills out the small part of Lady Saltburn. As a creepy, fawning aspiring writer, Brooks Ashmanskas gives a broad physical performance that is initially amusing but becomes distracting. Martin (who directed the play at Boston's Huntington Theatre a few years ago with most of the same actors) should have reined in the actor, whose prancing about is reminiscent of Martin Short (Ashmanskas' costar in Little Me).

It's hard to wreck the well-crafted Present Laughter, however, and overall the Roundabout's production captures Coward's high style and dry wit. It's a treat to see Garber back on Broadway after his detours on TV and in movies, especially in a role that gives him a chance to ham it up so deliciously. 

 


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