Monday, November 16, 2015

Present Laughter—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

A Comedy of Manners

This Noel Coward comedy from the 40’s is directed by Don Alder.  It is playing at their space, 368 S. State St., through December 13th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-635-3901.

This is pretty typical of Coward’s comedies but not one of his best.  He often writes himself in as the main character and usually played it himself at one point.  Often he would write the ex-wife part for his good buddy, Gertrude Lawrence.  In fact there is a rather good film of their relationship called, Star, with Julie Andrews as Lawrence and Daniel Massey as Coward.  His most famous and best comedies of this type being, Blithe Spirit and Private Lives, I believe.  My favorite, though, is a drama called Brief Encounters.  He was also songwriter, and an actor, both in comedic and dramatic roles later in life.

Coward’s comedies often included ex-wives as characters, and it was the age of smoking jackets, sexual intrigue, gallons of booze and smoking, and with dozens of artistic types, free with their money, traveling casually about Europe.  In this case, it is about an aging, vain, matinee-idol named, Garry Essendine (Gary Powell).  It seems that he is preparing for a trip to Africa in the near future to perform a few months of repertory plays.  But he will not be allowed to slip easily into that “good night.”

His ex-wife, Liz (Olivia Shimkus) keeps popping back into his life, presumably because she still cares for him (or his money and lifestyle).  He also has the terrible habit on having young, fledgling starlets stay overnight in his flat because they have “forgotten” their latch-key, in this case a young, naïve girl named, Daphne (Brenan Dwyer).  His two best friends, also his Producer and his Manager, Hugo (Jacob Lee Smith) and Morris (Grant Byington) are constantly in and out of his life.  And the third member of the trio, although a bit of a misfit, is Joanna (Melissa Whitney), Hugo’s wife.  But it seems there might be a bit of mischief going on with her behind their backs.

To add to this madcap misadventure is a newbie, a brash, over-eager playwright, Roland (Jake Simmonds) who has a fixation on Garry and is dying for him to be in his new, rather avant-garde, play.  His staff, consisting of a frisky golden-ager, Fred (John Morrison), his valet, the other-worldly, Miss Erikson (Jane Ferguson), the maid and his faithful, straight-laced secretary, Monica (Marilyn Stacey), are the only ones to seem to know the “real” Garry.  Surrounded by the high-life and oodles of hangers-on, he is still a rather lonely man.  To tell you more would spoil the fun.

This tale is very slight as a storyline but heavy on relationships, which makes it fun.  Once upon a time, this was the life-style of a chosen few and it’s very well represented in this production of that era.  I don’t think it makes you want to hark back to those “good ole days” but, when this performed, this play and others, gave citizens a light-hearted romp at a time when England and Europe would be all ablaze with WWII.  It must have been a welcome relief from the misery surrounding them.

The cast is all spot on, reflecting on an era long past and giving us a view of a life-style, only slightly exaggerated, I assume, in which having fun was the order of the day and one shouldn’t take Life and Love too seriously.  Alder understands this period and his cast reflects it wonderfully, with quick repartees, rushing about every which way, and still retaining a modicum of mock elegance.  Also the set (John Gerth) and costumes (Clare Hungate-Hawk) mirror the period perfectly.   And Powell is exceptional, I think even Coward would have approved of him in the lead role.  He makes no bones about his vanity, aging and indiscretions, with a slight twinkle in his eyes.  Powell is every bit the winsome wit that Coward intended him to be! 

I recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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