Entanglements of PRESENT LAUGHTER is Entertaining Enough

Noel Coward’s 1939 comedy, Present Laughter, offers a spirited soap-opera type romp as the many sides of Garry Essendine’s life begin colliding. A successful stage actor who is as charismatic as he is egotistical, and always performing even when off stage, Garry Essendine is loved by everyone and that’s the problem.

Garry is having a midlife crisis. He is turning 40 and trying to prepare to leave for Africa on a theatrical tour, but women and an aspiring playwright are throwing themselves at him. His manager is overly nervous and his producer seems to be occupied with other interests. His household help is impudent, his secretary is sarcastic, and his estranged wife remains a persistent fixture in his life. Somehow all these relationships have become entangled, and, like a television sitcom, the source of humorous moments.

In Switchyard Theatre Company’s production, director Nadia Bodie-Smith pushes her ensemble to mine the rich dialogue of the script as well as to lean greatly into the farcical elements of the plot. John Frazier sets the tone with his overly dramatic, self-obsessed Garry who both plays into the attention at the same time as he complains about it. His vain posturing is brought to ground by his not-quite-ex-wife, Liz (Shana Fisher) and long-time secretary, Monica (Tania Kelly). They are the leveling forces in his life and the show, eschewing silly antics for witty demeanors. Kelly’s Monica is a particular standout with her quips that always hit the mark.

Other characters rotating through Garry’s apartment are most notable for their exaggerated antics, working overtime to make sure they don’t fade into the background. Quirks and running gags dominate the interactions, played mainly for laughs from the audience. Amongst this group, Dani Coan’s Daphne, an aspiring actress, and Jamin Wade’s Roland, an earnest playwright, amplify their behavior to a cartoonish fever that nearly undermines the humor of their infatuation. 

While Joanna, wife of Garry’s producer, also has designs on the actor, she is much less hyperbolic. Akili Holder-Cozart controls the role, leaning into the manipulative side of her character and making her much more self-aware of her actions.

A general lack of self-awareness and privileged people making bad choices seem to be the themes of Coward’s satire. And although the show ends on a high note, a few loose ends are left unresolved. Still, Present Laughter, is entertaining enough but like most situation comedies, just light fare.

Present Laughter has closed. For more information about upcoming shows, visit Switchyard Theatre’s website.

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