Review: Present Laughter

Originallyreviewed for GaySocialites.com.

In aging matinee idol Garry Essendine, the central character in Present Laughter, playwright and gay sophisticate Noël Coward created one of the great comic monsters of the modern theater. All the greater because behind his arrogant, preening exterior, Garry is actually a truly compassionate, loving person, surprisingly devoted to the friends he so often bullies and insults. He just can’t help getting dazzled by his own brilliance (“I still maintain I should have been magnificent as Peer Gynt!”) — and who can’t identify with that?

It’s a truly delicious role, and Victor Garber seems to be having a wonderful time sinking his teeth into it. While other actors have had great success comically playing up Garry’s ego, Garber lets that take care of itself and takes Garry’s relationships with his tight-knit circle of friends totally to heart. This makes for what is easily the most textured Present Laughter I’ve ever seen. Even as you’re rolling your eyes at the excuses Garry makes for himself, you know he sincerely means well and is trying to get it right.

While Garry struggles to plan his upcoming tour of Africa, his elegant London flat is invaded by all manner of vivid characters. The flat itself is packed with character — Alexander Dodge’s set is a luscious Deco marvel. Lisa Banes is delectably dry as Garry’s estranged wife Liz, and Harriet Harris is her usual wickedly funny self as his indispensible secretary Monica.

Perhaps best of all is Brooks Ashmanskas as queer-in-every-sense playwright Roland Maule. Coward intended this character to seem like he’s truly touched; Ashmanskas is insanely over the top, truly from a different planet — or maybe just high camp heaven!

For tickets, click here.

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