Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Spoleto Highlight – Present Laughter

Posted 6/7/2010 12:25:00 AM
Comedy doesn’t always age well. Topical jokes fall flat, and audience’s tastes change. Noel Coward’s Present Laughter was written in 1939, making it more than 70 years old. However, in the hands of the Gate Theatre of Dublin, the play feels fresh, sparkling and most importantly, funny.

That isn’t to say that the play feels contemporary. It doesn’t, and that’s part of the fun. The costumes are sumptuous; the ladies wear hats, and the men dress for dinner. The set is like a black and white Fred Astaire movie come to life. Its' art deco lines are elegant and refined, and the cream-colored walls, carpet and furniture of this bachelor pad are lovely and pristine. But it is what is hanging on those white walls that tells us the most about the man who lives there. The apartment is covered with photos of its tenant, Garry Essedine: actor, egotist and ladies man.

Essedine is the sun around which the other characters in the play orbit. As dramatic off-stage as he is on, his close circle of friends do their best to keep him from getting him in trouble. During the course of the play, a series of romantic entanglements collide with Essedine’s approaching midlife crisis and threaten to turn the sun into a black hole.

The whole ensemble in this production is strong, but the show belongs to Stephen Brennan in the role of Essedine. Not only does he somehow make you care about such a selfish, conceited character -- he perfectly understands the light, graceful touch necessary to pull off Coward’s witty wordplay. At the same time, his performance is wildly physical. As Essedine’s world tumbles out of control, Brennan’s whole body shakes, shivers, and leaps over furniture in a series of comic gymnastics. Brennan also looks great in silk smoking jackets, carries off his double-breasted tuxedo with style and exudes so much charisma and intelligence that when he takes his bow, cocktail in hand, I defy any woman in the audience not to swoon a little. That presence and appeal is vital to the show; it’s utterly believable that a string of women half his age would be throwing themselves at him, despite his thinning hairline.

The Gate Theatre’s production of Present Laughter avoids the pitfalls of period comedy beautifully. Like Garry Essedine, the production finds a way to grow old gracefully.

To find out more about the Gate Theatre visit www.gate-theatre.ie. For more information about the festival, visit www.SpoletoUSA.org