Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Present Laughter"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Larry Stark

"Present Laughter"

by Noel Coward
Directed by Ron Ritchell

Set Design by Laurel Dahill
Lighting Design by Jen Simon
Costume Design by Andrew Polezak
Stage Manager Laurie A. Light

Daphne Stillington.....Michele Proude
Miss Erikson.............Renee Miller
Fred.................William Bradshaw
Monica Reed..........Bobbie Steinbach
Gary Essendine.....Robert J. Bouffier
Liz Essendine..........Sheila Ferrini
Roland Maule..........Phillip Patrone
Morris Dixson.....Michael David Brown
Hugo Lyppiatt..........Robert Bonotto
Joanna Lypiatt..............Marina Re
Lady Saltburn..........Jennifer Jones

Nearly everyone in "Present Laughter" thinks they have finally seen the "real" Gary Essendine --- a comic actor who has been the toast of London theater for years (a few too many years, he's beginning to think). Robert J. Bouffier plays him as totally histrionic, with wistful poses, set-piece speeches (sometimes lifted from old roles), and pregnant pauses that make his real-life a coruscation of different roles to be played. No wonder people are surprised to find, under his thin veneer, more and more thin veneers.

But Essendine isn't simply an actor, he's a whole theatrical industry, with a hard-as-nails personal secretary (Bobbbie Steinbach), and two producers (Michael David Brown and Robert Bonotto), and an estranged wife (Sheila Ferrini) he's never bothered to divorce --- all of whom hope to talk him out of little flings in the sheets with ingenues like Daphne (Michele Proude), the first discoverer of "a deeper, more real You!" This quartet of solid theatrical professionals badger and banter and cajole their wayward boss-cum-mealticket through one French-farce routine after another before everything sorts itself out.

After young Daphne has her fling at depth-perception Joanna makes a try at depth psychology. Joanna (Marina Re) is the wife of one producer, and may have been having an affair with the other producer, so her blatant attempt to seduce the actor who makes their collective fortunes possible causes all sorts of shocks and subterfuges and soul-searchings on all sides. Re is tempestuously theatrical in her own right, and a fine match for Bouffier when it comes to the climactic gloves-off verbal slug-fest.

Complicating the whole business is a hero-worshipping, admittedly neurotic young playwright (Phillip Patrone), whose tics and twitches and blindly blunderful outbursts nearly steal the show. Calming the whole business are the actor's valet (Michael Bradshaw) and cook (Renee Miller), who remain blissfully indifferent to the chaos they wade unflappably through doing more or less just what they're told.

The pace is so brisk, with brittle dialog flying in all directions at once, that it's only late in the play that everyone stops skating over the brilliant surface of the show to deal in straightforward honesty with one another --- if any theatrical poeple invented by Noel Coward can be accused of honesty. Pose and facade are indicated here, in a style of over-acted drawing-room farce. It may be that Director Ron Ritchell's leaving the company abruptly almost on opening night meant that brisk pace and mannerism were all the cast could locate in this funny play. And those are certainly sufficient for most audiences. Besides, finding "the Real 'Present Laughter'" might be a lot harder than finding a real Gary Essendine --- though the Lyric comes close.


"Present Laughter" (till 8 March)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide