"It's liable to be a bit nippy in the spare room."
In Noël Coward's delightful comedy PRESENT LAUGHTER, now onstage at Theatre Three, there are women behind every door and secrets poured out with every sip of brandy. But there's something delicious about rich people with crisp British accents acting naughty and this production captures all the decadent indecency for which Coward lives on.
The devices of theater actors, which was one of Coward's favorite subjects, take a beating in PRESENT LAUGHTER as the protagonist Garry Essendine (a divine Gregory Lush, whom my sister rightfully describes as a young Kevin Kline both in range and appearance) prepares for a play's trip to Africa. A week before he is to leave, he wakes up to a young girl in the spare room who's madly in love with him. His secretary Monica Reed (Arianna Movassagh) and housekeeper (Sherry Etzel, who later doubles as an uproarious grandmamma to the young girl) ignore the presence of this usual occurrence.
Actors, it seems, can't keep their paws to themselves.
Liz Essendine, his not-so-former wife, arrives with a cheetah print dressing gown and the game would be set for a farce, if these Brits weren't so dead-set on being upfront. Lydia Mackay's strong candor as Liz Essendine propels the humor to a breakneck speed and each act (there are three with two intermissions) seems funnier than the previous.
Perhaps Director Bruce Coleman simply had stronger actors to work with or perhaps he truly understands the genre, but this comedy of manners is the strongest piece I've seen crafted by him. "Present mirth hath present laughter," the Bard penned for his play Twelfth Night and Coleman really engenders the amusement underneath every exchange lacing it with the appropriate touch of irony.
David Walsh designed a charming set steeped in Jazz Age self-indulgence in the infuriating theater-in-the-round space of Theatre Three. This play deserves a beautiful proscenium stage, as the actors must do a dizzying dance to make sure all angles have something to watch at all times.
This uncontrollable energy need only be bridled when it seems Lisa-Gabrille Greene fails to capture the seductive qualities of Joanna Lypiatt or Sam Swanson does nothing but scream giddily as Roland Maule. But other performances offer redemptive sophistication: Jad Saxton is adorable as Daphne Stillington and Brandon J. Murphy dodges up-and-down the stairs, dropping in with a well-timed joke as Fred, the valet.
As the opener of Theatre Three's explosive 51st season line-up, PRESENT LAUGHTER sets a high standard.
PRESENT LAUGHTER runs through September 1 at Theatre Three. Tickets are available online or over the phone 214-871-3300.