Reviews

Present Laughter ***1/2

Kevin Kline shines as the aging star at the center of Noel Coward’s clever drawing room comedy.

By: Patrick Christiano

As soon as the curtain rises on David Zinn’s, eclectically detailed set of a London townhouse replete with a baby grand piano and an elegant staircase you know you are in for a stylish treat. This is the sophisticated drawing room of Gary Essendine, the aging stage star at the center of Noel Coward’s 1939 comedy the playwright dashed off for himself. And when Kevin Kline in a silk dressing gown finally enters and descends from the top of the stairs as Gary, a role he was born to play, the evening moves into another gear and escalates with charming intensity until the final chaotic fadeout.

Kevin Kline

Kevin Kline shines as the aging star at the center of Noel Coward’s clever drawing room comedy.

By: Patrick Christiano

As soon as the curtain rises on David Zinn’s, eclectically detailed set of a London townhouse replete with a baby grand piano and an elegant staircase you know you are in for a stylish treat. This is the sophisticated drawing room of Gary Essendine, the aging stage star at the center of Noel Coward’s 1939 comedy the playwright dashed off for himself. And when Kevin Kline in a silk dressing gown finally enters and descends from the top of the stairs as Gary, a role he was born to play, the evening moves into another gear and escalates with charming intensity until the final chaotic fadeout.

Kline looking terrific and fit at 69 playing the endearingly seductive 57-year-old Gary pretending to be 40 most of the time is perfect casting. And Kline doesn’t disappoint delivering a sublime performance as the narcissistic actor, who’s frightened of being alone, yet grumbles about all the people that constantly surround him. With comic relish Kline not only demonstrates a consummate understanding of the lightness essential to the style by throwing away most of his lines with impeccable timing, but he also has a genius for physical comedy that adds another dimension of glee to his portrayal of Gary by punctuating many moments with a flourish of organic gestures. 

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel , who helmed a brutal production of the dark comedy Hand to God a couple of seasons ago, has assembled an entertaining cast that includes Kate Burton, Kristine Nielsen, Cobie Smulders, Bhavesh Patel, Reg Rogers, Matt Bittner, Ellen Harvey, Peter Francis James, Tedra Millan and Sandra Shipley.

Burton is lovely as Liz, Gary’s no nonsense ex-wife who holds everything together, and Nielsen as his secretary Monica is a silly delight. As his manager Morris, and his producer Henry, Reg Rogers and Peter Francis James, respectively are very good. Smulders making her Broadway debut is resplendent as Johanna in Susan Hilferty’s costumes.

Indeed, every member of the skilled cast holds stage for their fleeting time in the spotlight. However, Coward’s comedy is an ensemble boasting several well-drawn characters and an understanding of the nuances in his people is basic to the style. Stuelpnagel allows several of the actors, although very witty, to be manically one noted caricatures. The result although amusing is uneven with Kline standing out as the glorious spirit of the evening.

Present Laughter is playing a limited run through July 2, 2017 at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. For tickets call 877-250-2929 or online at www.LaughterOnBroadway.com

Cobie Smulders, Kevin Kline
Kristine Nielsen, Kate Burton, and Kevin Kline in “Present Laughter.”