Matinee stars, affairs both amorous and numerous—what is a man to do? Find out when Independent Players presents Noel Coward’s delightful comedy Present Laughter at the Elgin Art Showcase, Fridays and Saturdays, March 1-16. Curtain time is 7:30 PM.
Based on a song in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in which the Bard says “present mirth hath present laughter,” the title suggests that one should “live for the day,” which is exactly what the characters in Coward’s play do. At the center of his own universe sits the suave, debonair and hedonistic matinee idol Garry Essendine. Garry finds himself visited by a young admirer, Daphne Stillington who convinces him to allow her to stay the night. The next day, Garry convinces her to leave, but his ex-wife Liz, with whom he is still in contact, suspects that his manager, Morris Dixon, is having an affair with Joanna (the wife of Garry’s producer). When they are trying to discuss that situation, a young playwright, Roland Maule, arrives eager for Gary’s critique of his new play. Garry gets rid of him, and later questions Morris as to whether he has had an affair, which he denies, and Garry informs Liz.
Joanna, of course, shows up at Garry’s house later and seduces him. When Liz finds out, she tries to blackmail Joanna, but Roland returns to talk to Garry again. Then Lady Saltburn, the aunt of an aspiring actress, who was promised an audition for her niece, arrives with her niece. The niece just happens to be Daphne! Garry is scheduled for a tour playing theatres in Africa, but Daphne, Roland Joanna and Liz arrive to inform him that they, too, bought tickets for the same tour. Morris and Hugo arrive to deride Garry for having an affair with Joanna, but he reveals his knowledge of their own sexual escapades which prompts Joanna to leave. Garry and Liz decide to get back together again, leaving Daphne and Roland lock in adjacent rooms.
So what we have here is this: just when Garry is planning to escape on a touring commitment in Africa, the full extent of his misdemeanors is discovered. Amid a series of events which borders on farce, Garry must 1. deal with women who want to seduce him; 2. placate both his long-suffering secretary and his estranged wife; 3. cope with a crazed young playwright; and 4. overcome his impending mid-life crisis. As in many of Coward’s plays, in the end, the central character is able to literally leave all the chaos behind and sail off into the sunset unscathed.
Of the play, Coward wrote: “Present Laughter is a very light comedy and was written with the sensible object of providing me with a bravura part.” He completed the play in 1939, before the outbreak of World War II. During the early years of the war, Coward served the British government in intelligence work. Winston Churchill advised Coward that he could do more for the war effort by entertaining the troops and the home front: “Go and sing to them when the guns are firing—that’s your job!” Although he was disappointed, he followed this advice. He toured, acted and sang indefatigably in Europe, Africa, Asia and America. The play was first produced in Blackpool, in September 1942, during Coward’s wartime tour of Britain after he returned to the theatre.
The reviews of this production were excellent; The Observerreported: “Mr. Coward’s production is so inventive, and his own performance so adroit in its mockery of the vain, posturing, and yet self-scrutinizing and self-amused matinee idol, that Present Laughter is likely to be future mirth for as long as Mr. Coward cares to run it.” The Manchester Guardianadded: One is tempted to cast discretion to the winds and predict that this will be remembered as the best comedy of its kind and generation…one of those rare occasions when the critic must claim the privilege of his fellow-playgoers, simply to marvel, admire, and enjoy wholeheartedly.” Its first production in London was at the Haymarket Theatre in April 1947.
In its first London production, The Timespraised it as “a wittily impudent and neatly invented burlesque of a French farce.” When one first sees it, he immediately realizes that it bears a strong resemblance to such wonderfully delightful French farces as Let’s Get a Divorce (1880) by Victorien Sardou and Emile de Najac and A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau (1907). If one is familiar with these French playwrights, he can see elements of the “well-made play”, a popular genre created by Sardou and Najac and the brilliant French farces of Feydeau. Of course, Coward always adds a personal/“English” touch and therein lies his genius.
Present Laughter plays Fridays and Saturdays, March 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 2019 at 7:30 PM at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division Street, Elgin. The play is directed by Don Haefliger, IP Artistic Director, and the cast is made up of the following: Steve Connell, Elizabeth Dawson, Madeline Franklin, Blase Horn, Jonathan Horn, Dave Hudson, Gabor Mark, Beth McDonald, Nicole Netsen, Lori Rohr and Dana Udelhoven.
Tickets are $15 with Seniors at $12 and Students at $10. Tickets can be purchased online at www.independentplayers.org, as well as at the door prior to each performance. For information and reservations, call (847) 697-7374.