Disappointing. Despite the jaw dropping, ultra dazzling, decadent and unfortunately overpowering deco duplex set designed by Alexander Dodge which elicits gasps of approval and applause from the audience when the first act curtain rises on Noel Coward’s classic comedy at the American Airlines Theatre presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company – Present Laughter ultimately should be starring Victor Garber and not the set which not only grabs your attention but threatens to hold onto it as the plot slowly unwinds, characters are introduced and relationships set up during the tired first act. It’s a slow going affair.
Not until Act II and III does the farcical element kick in despite the introduction in Act I of the nervous and eager playwright, Roland Maule (Brooks Ashmanskas – who all but mauls anyone to whom he offers his firm hand shake).
If only the entire production took flight as he does, racing around the stage, all a twitter, slapping his own hands when he does not approve of his own actions, voicing his adoration of the “always acting” Garry Essendine (Victor Garber) the ego centric, suave, afraid of aging, money making star that keeps his entire retinue able to live the deluxe lifestyle to which they have all become accustomed.
He is off to tour Africa to fill the coffers, but not before he is forced to face the reality of his world weary life and deal with his newest overnight conquest who has lost her latchkey Daphne Stillington (a delightful Holley Fain who captures the spirit of the comedy and her character right on), his almost ex wife Liz Essendine (a no nonsense, practical, accepting and understanding Lisa Banes who knows what’s right for tout le monde) his faithful secretary of seventeen years Monica (an expertly funny Harriet Harris) Fred, his manservant (a jaunty James Joseph O’Neil) and his maid Miss Erikson (Nancy E. Carroll – who has been directed to voice most of her unintelligible lines with a cigarette dangling from her lips as she very slowly cleans up), his producer Henry Lyppiatt (Richard Poe) whose predatory wife Joanna (Pamela Jane Gray – wearing the most fabulous black and white outfits designed by Jane Greenwood – knock offs should be made instantly available to anyone who wants to look like a glamorous star) has targeted Essendine as her newest lover while carrying on an affair with Morris (Marc Vietor) his manager. It’s all rather too much for Essendine to deal with – claiming he’d rather be alone.
Mr. Garber seems the perfect choice for the role. But something is amiss here. We don’t care for him really and I think we should despite his childlike tantrums, his preening and his I can do anything I like attitude. He fills his silk pajamas nicely along with his dressing gowns and has some extremely funny moments but the sadness that he hides is hidden too well underneath the circus of his life.
Nicholas Martin has directed this fun but uneven production that has enabled Alice Duffy as Lady Saltburn to make her first New York appearance. She has one of the best moments of the evening. Good for her! www.roundabouttheatre.org