El Paseo Arts Foundation’s final show for the season Present Laughter, a wonderful, classic comedy by Noel Coward, will take the stage at the South Padre Island Convention Center on Thursday and Friday, April 12th and 13th. Coward was a master entertainer in the very best sense: an immensely intelligent, witty, resourceful man who took endless delight in the human comedy and managed to make it even funnier than it already is. Present Laughter, regarded as one of the best of Coward’s 50 plays, is all about fun and funny people, particularly its central character Garry Essendine, an egocentric actor, who is always acting. “Actor” is the one role that he can never shed.
The plot of Present Laughter, set in 1947, follows a few days in the life of this self-obsessed actor in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Juggling his considerable talent, ego and libido, the theater’s favorite leading man of his time suddenly finds himself caught between fawning ingénues, a predatory seductress, a crazed playwright, his long-suffering secretary, his estranged wife, and unexpected twists in his well-ordered life. It seems the entire world is out to get Garry Essendine.
The cast includes several favorite local performers as well as a couple of new comers to the El Paseo stage. Danny Dollar takes on the challenging role of the quintessential actor. Andrea Wright plays his wise and witty, estranged wife and business manager, Liz, and DeeOnda Ahadi plays his very competent and long suffering secretary, Monica, who is forever cleaning up the messes he gets himself into. Andy Riley as Morris, Garry’s director, and Chuck Hofmeister as Hugo, Garry’s producer, round out the tight knit group of Garry’s close friends and colleagues. Fred, played by Mark Shellard, is Garry’s valet. He and Garry’s Swedish cook and house-keeper, Mrs. Erickson, played by Anne Wootors, tend to Garry’s needs and put up with his dramatic and demanding personality.
Garry’s well- ordered life is turned upside down by a trio of characters. Cianna Perez as Daphne Stillington is a love-struck ingénue determined to devote her life to Garry. Hayden Draker as Roland Maule, a “mad”, young playwright, is obsessed with Garry and seeks out every opportunity to be near him. Brenda Bailey as Joanna Lyppiatt, Hugo’s wife, wants to seduce Garry and add him to her list of sexual conquests. Finally, Marybelle Suczek plays Daphne’s aunt Lady Saltburn who is manipulated into arranging a meeting for Daphne with the famous Mr. Essendine.
When the play first premiered in London’s West End, the critics raved, describing it as “so inventive … 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 it runs. One of the major critics described his reaction to the play this way: “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.” Indeed, this is a wonderful, farce-like comedy that seems never to age. It’s as funny today as it was in 1947. –
The play’s title comes from a song in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which urges carpe diem (“present mirth hath present laughter”). The play has enjoyed numerous revivals in Europe and North America – including a limited run revival on Broadway in June and July 2017, when Kevin Kline reprised his portrayal of Essendine and earned 2017’s Tony award for best actor. The revival also earned a nomination for best revival of a play in 2017.
Present Laughter is scheduled for performance on April 12 and 13, 2018, at the SPI Convention Center. The evening of theatre begins with complimentary light hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets for Present Laughter are $30 per person/$25 for El Paseo Arts members. Tickets are available for purchase at Paragraphs Book Store, S.O.S. PadreRitaGrill, the Art Gallery in Lighthouse Square, and online at www.elpaseoart.org. This is a play that will delight and entertain you from beginning to end. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy this mirth-filled, comic jewel.