The Monomoy Theatre showcases Sir Noel Coward's semi-autobiographical madcap comic play "Present Laughter," written in 1939 and placed on a shelf as World War II consumed Europe and the world. Coward himself starred in the leading role of Garry Essendine, opening to rave reviews in the fall of 1942. Clifton Webb starred four years later on Broadway. Kevin Kline drew acclaim in 2017, and so it goes, the laughter continues.
Essendine's extended family keep insisting on helping him through his mid-life crisis in a house of cards all the while accentuating Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" carpe diem song "Present mirth hath present laughter." Present as in the adjective, not the verb.
Dashing Reid Williams stars as Essendine who cannot breathe without an audience to entertain, even in his own home. Williams has fine-tuned his British upper crust delivery. With a twinkle in his eye, Williams cautions the audience and his character's latest overnight guests, "don't love me too much." The life of an actor is all illusory.
There's a lot going on in Essendine's apartment. It's a busy set (Braden Hooter), busy show (stage manager Bethany Rachel Weed), period costumes (Grace Bunt), and a cast of actors who zealously define their characters.
Katherine Wolf is the epitome of a femme fatale making a glamorous entrance as Joanna Lyppiatt in a stunning red gown. Wolf's polished confidence while seducing Garry is a sight to behold.
Erin Cessna becomes the understanding ex-wife who assists Garry moving forward, keeping to his schedule, and on to Africa for his adoring new fans. Cessna's Liz Essendine truly understands her man, on and off the stage, and in and out of the bedroom.
Rachel Rival also presents believable British flair playing dutiful secretary of 17 years, Monica Reed. Laura Axelrod opens the show as pixy Daphne Stillington entering from the guest room in bed clothes. Only 21, so young, so impressionable, so eager to feed a notable actor's ego with her sexy treats.
Emily Qualmann is all business as dour housekeeper Miss Erikson. Olivia Fenton makes a cameo appearance as Essendine's number one fan, the rich and lovely Lady Saltburn.
And now for the men in action. Christopher Bailey shines as Fred the Valet in a "silver tea service" performance to Garry's entourage. Tristan Rewald commands in all his scenes as Garry's producer Henry
Lyppiatt who seems to overlook Joanna's misplaced affections; such a likable performance.
Pedro Fontes is very funny in the role of aspiring playwright Roland Maule who argues for intellectual significance as theater for the future. Matthew Werner's manager Morris Dixon has an eye for Joanna, too.
"Present Laughter" is played in three acts with one intermission. Director Max Williams was busily fine-tuning Monday's dress rehearsal so that set, costumes, and speeches are ready to greet the audience on opening
night with Sir Coward's angelic winks and everlasting good humor, for the pure joy of entertaining the Monomoy audience. He didn't have much to do.
At the Monomoy Theatre, Main Street, Chatham
Through July 21
Information and reservations: 508-945-1589, monomoytheatre.org