Present Laughter,Noel Coward’s comedy, which first premiered on Broadway in 1946 follows Garry Essendine, a self-indulgent actor (is there any other kind?!) in the midst of a mid-life crisis.
Juggling his considerable talent, ego and libido, the theater's favorite leading man suddenly finds himself caught between fawning ingénues, crazed playwrights, secret trysts and unexpected twists.
Oscar and Tony winner Kevin Kline stars as Garry
That combination of artifice and rue, of elegant ham and fretful heart, is the essence of Coward, who played Garry in the original London production of “Present Laughter” in 1942 and admitted, “Garry Essendine is me.” Pulling off a great Coward performance, with its filigree contradictions, is a rare accomplishment. (Offhand, on Broadway, only Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman in “Private Lives,” and Rosemary Harris in “Hay Fever” come to mind.) So let us give thanks for what Mr. Kline, embodying the capricious god of his own theatrical universe, has wrought.
Whether playing it straight (“Dave”) or unwittingly gay (“In & Out”), the wry and sly Oscar- and Tony-winning Kline coaxes chuckles with ease. Deadpan delivery? Eyes and expressions that speak volumes? Funny physical bits? Check. Check. Check. Kevin Kline assumes a pose as Garry Essendine. And Kline’s nimble hands deserve their own applause from theatergoers at the St. James. He employs them like semaphore flags, punctuating moments.
I was especially impressed with the women. Cobie Smulders, a star of How I Met Your Mother making her Broadway debut as Joanna, not only looks sensational in gowns by Susan Hilferty but finds a core of valor in a typically odious character. Kate Burton — who played the ingénue Daphne opposite George C. Scott in 1982 — brings exceptional clarity and warmth to Liz, who can sometimes come off as a scold. And Kristine Nielsen is hilarious as the trusty secretary Kristine Nielsen.