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vancouverplays review

 

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— Production Poster

PRESENT LAUGHTER
by Noël Coward
United Players
Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery
Nov. 8-Dec. 2
$16-$20
604-224-8007 ext 2 or www.unitedplayers.com

Noel Coward’s Present Laughter appears to have been a tongue-in-cheek vanity project. In it Coward mocks his own popularity and fame, critiques his own plays, and at the same time celebrates his own celebrity. And what better company to produce this bizarre piece of Olde England than Point Grey’s United Players. Adam Henderson’s snappy, entertaining production shows once again how to do more with less.

On Sean Malmas’ handsome little drawing room set in 1939 we meet popular middle-aged West End actor and bon vivant Garry Essendine (Edward Foy, who carries off Coward quite convincingly), his entourage, and his fans. Everyone wants a piece of Garry—or should I say everyone wants to be his piece. As Garry himself says, “Everybody adores me—it’s nauseating.”  So Daphne (adorable Melanie Reich), 20 years younger, who can’t get enough of him, has slept with him last night. Amid doorbells and phones ringing and servants running around, Garry’s ex-wife and current manager, Liz (Lara Rose Tansey), comes by and warns him to stop all this “casual scampering about” with sweet young things like Daphne: “try not to be so devastatingly charming.”

But our Garry, vain as can be, is incorrigible. And though he recognizes that his friend Henry’s wife, Joanna (Corina Akeson at her vampy best), is “predatory,” and in fact is having an affair with their business partner and mutual friend, Morris (C. Christopher Pritchett), Garry ends up sleeping with her, too. And though he doesn’t literally go to bed with male groupie/stalker Roland (Seth Little in a wonderfully mannered performance), he might as well have. Everyone wants a piece of our Garry except his loyal low comic servants (Diana Sandberg, Broadus Mattison), ex-wife Liz, and his efficient secretary, Monica (the excellent Rebecca Walters).

Garry is an inveterate actor: “I’m always acting,” he admits. And as the comic chaos mounts, you think maybe he’ll have a revelation of some kind amidst his mid-life crisis of sorts. Well, he does, but it’s not the one you expect. Without giving anything away, let me just say that Coward/Garry declares his independence in the end from all the leeches who live off his great talent. My Gawd, but he’s good! And so is this perverse Cowardy show.              

Jerry Wasserman