Noel Coward's Farce 'Present Laughter' Catalyzes Chuckles Through April 29
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, April 17, 2023
Two of the unusual things about the Cygnet stage are the height and the thrust into the audience. Both are capitalized on in the most recent production offered by the company, Noel Coward’s farcical comedy Present Laughter, directed by Rosina Reynolds and running through April 29.
Sean Murray leads the cast as Garry Essendine, a prodigious actor, director, and producer whose successful career has created ample opportunities for him, while also availing him of a parade of women who “lose their latch key” in an attempt to snare their prey. Garry’s staff, which include secretary Monica (Melissa Fernandes), valet Fred (Drew Bradford), and housekeeper Miss Erikson (Annie Hinton) as well as his ex-wife Liz (Shana Wride), are well aware of his proclivities and have seemingly resigned themselves to the best way with which to handle them.
As the story begins, Garry is near to leaving to complete some work in Africa, if only he can arrange the details and manage the drama surrounding producer Henry (James Newcomb), his wife Joanna (Amanda Sitton), manager Morris (Steven Lone), hovering debutante Daphne (Lindsey Young), and aspiring playwright Roland (Trevor Cruse), and the bevy of would-be attendees who have purchased tickets on the same tender, hoping to ride his coattails.
Like many farces, Present Laughter is carried by the characterization of its performers, and the actors do not disappoint. A variety of dialects are presented (under the tutelage of dialect consultant Vanessa Dinning) and big personalities are affected onstage, each to good effect, beginning with the top of the first scene and some very obvious eye-rolling.
These large personas (the largest of which belong to Murray’s charismatic, mid-life crisis plagued Essendine and an enchanting, over-the-top hopeful playwright, played with aplomb by Trevor Cruse) topple in on top of one another and sneak in and out of the residence’s many doors; as these shifts happen, the situational dynamics onstage ebb and flow.
Lending a bit more subtlety in her performance is Shana Wride as Mrs. Liz Essendine who maintains a dry composure with quiet competence. I was tickled by how this more tender approach works in context to some of the bigger characters; a straight-laced direction lends a shade of gravitas to any comedic production, and this is the case here.
Present Laughter, which relies heavily on parallel storytelling between Acts 1 and 2, takes place entirely in Garry’s home and Tony Cucuzzella has done a brilliant job at crafting a two-story set that is both stately and well apportioned with large floor-to-ceiling windows, period furniture, a variety of integrated props (curated by properties designer Bonnie Durbin), and framed Essendine production posters. The main action of the show occurs in the middle of the thrust, creating an intimate, part-of-it-all experience for the audience. The doors are well placed for ins and outs with the many players onstage, and the space is well lit by lighting designer Colby Freel, who creates morning and evening light schemes to adjust the mood accordingly.
Production sound designer TJ Fucella incorporates a variety of cues to keep the action moving, including well-timed door bells and phone rings, and the characters are dressed in a variety of ostentatious costumes by designer Elisa Benzoni with period wigs by Peter Herman.
Melodrama abounds, of course, but the lighthearted fare might be just what many are looking for, and if so, Present Laughter runs through April 29 at Cygnet Theatre.