Magazine article Variety

Present Laughter

Magazine article Variety

Present Laughter

Article excerpt

Present Laughter

St. James Theatre; 1,397 seats; $145 top

Director: Moritz von Stuelpnagel

Starring: Kevin Kline

Whatever would we do without Kevin Kline? In an age of lesser stars, he's a bona fide matinee idol, with the urbane sensibility to do justice to sophisticated scribes like Noel Coward. "Present Laughter" is a delicious drawing-room comedy that Coward dashed off in 1942 to amuse himself and his friends. Kline relishes the comic challenge in this snazzy production directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel.

To begin with, Kline looks the part of Garry Essendine, an aging but still seductive roué who leaves the ladies weak at the knees. Although never ridiculous, he's genuinely funny, this handsome, narcissistic baby who's terrified of being alone but complains loudly at the hordes of visitors who descend on his handsome London townhouse. However chaotic the manic events unfolding in his living room, he automatically pauses to glance at a mirror before leaving the room - a small but significant staging detail that pays off with a terrific sight gag.

Keeping to the visuals for a moment, costumer Susan Hilferty has furnished the star with some perfectly lovely dressing gowns and smoking jackets, all very appropriate for an age when such things were de rigueur for fashionable men who entertained women after dark. Repaying the compliment, Kline makes a meal out of slipping out of one elegant robe and into another. His timing on this brief comic turn, by the way, is impeccable.

What makes Garry so endearing is that he never questions himself, but accepts the world's adulation as his due. "Everybody worships me, it's nauseating," he says, without irony. When the show opens, twentysomething Daphne Stillington (Tedra Millan) is wandering around the living room in a state of dishabille, after spending the night in the spare room better known as the seduction parlor.

For the rest of the play, Garry has to navigate his way through all his visitors - who include his ex-wife, Liz (Kate Burton); and his current paramour, Joanna (Cobie Smulders), who's "a lovely creature, but tricky," according to Liz. Smulders has a graceful, Cowardian air in the role, and makes Hilferty's costumes look even more fabulous.

Director von Stuelpnagel, who flashed his flair for comedy in "Hand to God," has assembled a cast of reliable pros who know the drill well. …

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