Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Present Laughter at Main Street Theater

If there is alternative universe, is it too much to ask that it take place within a Noël Coward play? And, wouldn’t it be icing on the cake if you get a silk smoking jacket upon entrance? A martini would be nice too. Main Street Theater’s delicious production of Coward’s ode to his own life (weren’t they all?) Present Laughter, just makes you want to move in with these people. Back then, even whining was an art form.

Everybody loves Garry Essendine, the aging matinée idol, including Garry, of course. Although he’s concerned about his dimming light, others are drawn to him like pesky mosquitoes that he would just like to clobber. Women forget their latchkeys, a lovestruck playwright swarms about, his ex-wife doesn’t get the “ex” part. It’s just a dysfunctional zoo of witty people. He’s heading off to tour in Africa, but not before his inner circle gets a piece of him. It’s not easy being the treasured eternal “it” boy. As in most of Coward’s plays, nothing is really resolved, just narrowly escaped.

The cast—as tight as they come—is headed up by Joel Sandel, looking smashing at every turn in his tuxedo or new dressing jacket. (Why ever did those things go out of fashion?) Sandel inhabits the troubled star with ample charisma and self doubt, and shows a distinct flair for physical comedy. Terri Branda Carter is Monica Reed, Essendine’s sharp-tongued no-nonsense secretary. As the one leveled headed person in the pack, Carter is a hoot. Kara Greenberg as Liz, the forever caring ex-wife, is all sense and clever manipulation. Morgan McCarthy’s daffy Daphne Stillington plays the clueless ingénue with unbridled innocence. Sara Gaston conjures Jessica Rabbit in her Veronica Lake side-swept hair and crimson satin gown as Joanna Lyppiatt, the siren and seductress. David Harlan (Fred and Hugo Lyppiatt) and Sheryl Croix ( Miss Erikson and Lady Saltburn) deliver strong performances and add to the evening’s snap.

Claire Hart-Palumbo directs with a crisp hand letting the wit and banter rule with oddles of attention to sharp comic timing. Period costumes by Udden lend a post-war elegance and Meghan C. Hakes’ smart set looks and feels like an ideal habitat for this entertaining lot. What better way to head into the summer months than with a head full of Coward. Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden caps her not-a-misstep-in-sight season with one sparkling show. Now pass that martini.

-Nancy Wozny

Present Laughter continues at Main Street Theater until June 22. Call 713-524-6706.