Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Present Laughter
Theatre Rhinoceros
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Elect to Laugh: 2016, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and The Last Five Years and Patrick's reviews of West Side Story and Dancing at Lughnasa


John Fisher and Marvin Peterle Rocha
Photo by David Wilson
Theatre Rhinoceros is bringing back Noël Coward. First it was Song at Twilight and now it's his 1939 farce Present Laughter, now playing at the Eureka Theatre. This is a high-spirited comedy about an aging matinee idol, his friends, entourage, and various hangers on. Coward wrote it as a tour de force for himself at age 39, so it's somewhat autobiographical. At the time, homosexually was illegal and Coward took great pains to conceal it. He cultivated a public image of a womanizer who caroused all night and so he created the character of Garry Essendine in this parody.

Present Laughter is presented as a wild comedy of type in British farces in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. This two hour and thirty minute production contains some of the wildest over the top acting on the part of John Fisher as Garry Essendine and his ensemble of 10 actors. This was predominant in English theatre up to the "kitchen sink" realistic dramas of the 1960s.

Bravo to director John Fisher for crafting a great revival of Coward's play on that basis of campy stylizing and oh so many marvelous zingers that come fast and furiously. Briefly, Garry Essendine is having a bad week. He's about to go on tour to Africa and no one is making it easy. He is approaching a mid-life crisis and he is sensitive about everything. No one appreciates his hard work to be a diva in 1939. There is a lot going on in his flat when it is invaded by admirer after admirer, valet Fred (Ryan Engstrom) who keeps saying "righto," and a housekeeper Miss Erikson (Adrienne Krug) who continues to dust furniture in his flat.

You never forget that Garry Essendine is an actor, as Fisher plays Noël Coward's flair for the dramatic in this superb comedic tour de force. It is only at the beginning of the second act that he becomes a real, calm human being in a seduction scene with Joanna, played strikingly by Amanda Farbstein. She perfectly overemphasizes the character role.

John Fisher has his cast keeping the dialog fast, one-liners sizzling, and a balance for eccentric antics and credible emotional outbursts. Marvin Peterle Rocha as young playwright Roland Maule comes as near to a homosexual that the English would allow on stage at that time. He skillfully goes all out with Maule stalking the actor through two acts, escalating his desperation and demands in the second act. Adam Simpson deftly plays Morris Dixon, with the innocence of someone over his head in love, while Carlos Barrera admirably plays Henry Lyppiatt, the husband of Joanna and Garry's producer. Tina D'Elia ably plays Liz Essendine, who pushes Garry to grow up and leave his wild ways. Kathryn Wood as secretary Monica, who keeps his many love letters including one from "Joe" whom he met in Tangiers, capitalizes on the role with a delightful sarcastic somberness. Adrienne Dolan as Daphne the na├»ve young lady at the beginning of the play who lost her "latch key" after a night of wild romance with the actor, is pitch perfect in the role. Ryan Engstrom plays the randy valet Fred with a perfect Cockney accent. He also entertains the audience before and during the play on piano with Noël Coward songs that include "Green Carnation," which refers to the gay crowd of this period.

Gilbert Johnson's set design is a wonderful detailed depiction of Garry's living room, while David Draper's costumes are chic for the 1930s appeal.

Present Laughter is a wonderful romp about growing old gracefully and it's a whole lot of fun.

Present Laughter plays through June 18th, 2016, at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtained by calling 1-800-838-3006 or online at www.TheRhino.org.


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