By: Isa Goldberg
With Kevin Kline and Kate Burton as the happily divorced couple at the center of the Noel Coward revival, Present Laughter, the entertainment is abundantly frothy. As you may recall, Gary Essendine (Klein) is a famous British actor, philanderer, and narcissist. His ex-wife, Liz (Burton), does everything for him, including, literally, helping him keep his pants on. Incidentally, she is lovely in the role, exuding a warmth and vitality that have amplified with maturity. And Klein clowns, broods, mimics and performs the physical pratfalls for which he, like Gary, are so well known.
In Moritz Von Stuelpnagel’s production, however, the characters who won’t go away – and literally will not leave Gary alone – are the most intriguing. Foremost among them is Roland Maule (pronounced as spelled). In Bhavesh Patel’s hands, this wannabe playwright and clinging fan, is the one to watch! Seemingly innocent to the point of being dense, Maule turns from a worm into a vicious monster, taking control of events in the most frightening and unexpected fashion.
Thriving on comedy, as is her wont, Kristine Nielsen is devilishly alive here. Playing Klein’s assistant, she deflects cross fire and near catastrophe with discernable chagrin. No one twists like Nielsen, whose stage personae are unique to her.
Other interlopers come and go with shameless adoration and contempt for the famous star. Among them, Daphne Stillngton, (Tedra MIllan), is an ingénue who knows no innocence, and Joanna Lyppiatt, (Cobie Smulders), a two timing wife. Both revolve in time with the swinging doors. Along with Gary’s business associates, an absolutely agitating Morris Dixon (outstandingly portrayed by Reg Rogers), and a far too stuffy Henry Lyppiatt (Peter Francis James), the stage is a boiling pot of combustible energy.
Present Laughter ***
St. James Theatre
245 W. 44th Street, NYC
Tue, Thu, 7 pm; Wed, Fri—Sat, 8 pm; Wed, Sat, 2 pm; Sun, 3 pm.
Running time: two hours and 30 mins. including intermission.
$55—$150. (877) 250-2929. www.ticketmaster.com.
April 5—July 2, 2017
Photos: Joan Marcus