The Brown County Playhouse’s current show is Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. The comedy is nicely packaged and elegantly presented. Jonathan Michaelsen, Chair and Producer of the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama and the Brown County Playhouse is the director.
In the play Garry Essendine is an aging matinee idol preparing for to set off on tour. In Garry’s life there’s plenty of turmoil. As he sort of floats along, he has to deal with an ingénue that he may have seduced, his estranged wife, the smitten wife of a colleague, an equally smitten young playwright and the whole general business of theater.
The plotting of Present Laughter seems a bit casual. In the first act there’s consternation that the leading lady for a six play rep tour of Africa has broken her leg. There’s considerable comic discussion of a one possible substitute, but the topic never surfaced again leaving us to wonder. Then there were hints about the bizarre séances that the cook attends, but we have to wait for Coward’s Blythe Spirit to follow up on that. And, the difficulty with the water faucet in the spare bedroom . It was a running topic of discussion. There’s no plot use of it and no one called the plumber. But Noel Coward wrote the role of Garry for himself, and as simply an excuse to bring the people who prey upon Garry and visa versa together in various degrees of conflict and compromise it works very well.
Present Laughter offers a cast with guests from the professional ranks along with IU students and graduates. Paul DeBoy had the challenging lead role. Throughout DeBoy reflected the fatigue and withdrawal that Coward wrote into the role very well, his timing was excellent and his sense of the character’s vanity was always on display. At the same time, DeBoy has a certain regular guy next door aspect and the thing that I missed was a sparkle, some sense that this man was at least on stage a real matinee idol.
Jenny McKnight showed just how much space an actor can occupy whether acting or reacting in the key role of his knowingly critical, but sympathetic wife Liz. Shannon Koob took the palm of the evening in her extended seduction of the reluctant Garry. It was a powerful display of potent intelligence, sexuality and darkly attractive amorality though she appeared just briefly Gail Bray nicely anchored her scene as Lady Saltburn, the sponsor of a protégé.
The IU contingent more than held its own. Abby Rowold was very effective as Garry’s much put upon and long suffering secretary. Steve Thomas had nice moments as the cheerfully whistling houseman Fred. Rin Ehlers was Miss Erikson the family’s crazed cook. Mathew Buffalo and Henry McDaniel were Morris and Hugo, Gary’s business partners. Sarah Fisher was Daphne, Garry’s latest conquest. Shewan Howard was an equally Garry smitten young playwright.
The production is a pleasure to look at. Garry’s wonderfully conceived and appointed apartment and office is by Fred Duer. The cast’s stylish and varied costumes are by Linda Pisano. Lighting is by Marie Shakespeare and Thomas Oldham treated the audience to a nice sampling of Coward’s songs in his sound design.
The Brown County Playhouse’s production of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter plays through August 23rd. You can find this review and an interview with three of the cast members on our web site at WFIU dot ORG.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.