Certain roles fit certain actors like a well-tailored suit. And there probably isn’t anyone better than a natty Victor Garber to play the narcissistic stage legend Garry Essendine in the new Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter. In the play, Garry is the center of an insular group of friends and lovers who cheat on their spouses, try to one-up each other at every turn, and are, frankly, out of touch with anything outside the Essendine flat in London. All the play’s action takes place in this truly magnificent apartment, designed by Alexander Dodge and adorned with a gilded staircase, a baby grand piano, and a huge painting of Garry (as Hamlet, no less).
Director Nicholas Martin smartly pairs Garber with Lisa Banes, who plays Essendine’s wronged wife with equal parts bitchiness and compassion. Let’s just say it’s not easy to be married to someone like Garry Essendine, who literally can’t answer the door without first checking his hair in a mirror; Banes conveys that plight convincingly. The rest of the play crackles with memorable one-liners and dialogue that’s super-quick — at some points almost too quick and, thus, confusing. Quips like, ”I have no intention of submitting to one of your famous finger-wagging tirades!” are just plain fun.
Given the stunning set, the showbiz-related subject matter, and the fact that the central character is an actor, it’s hard not to be reminded of last fall’s Broadway revival of The Royal Family, another relic of a play set in the 1920s and based on the vain Barrymore clan of thespians. But as its title suggests, Laughter focuses a little bit more on the quick-funny rather than Family‘s reach for broad timelessness. Alas, Laughter doesn’t hold up quite as well as Royal Family. Under Martin’s direction, Coward’s show is a little frenetic in terms of pacing (it also feels about 20 minutes too long) and the inclusion of two odd musical numbers feels less organic than random. (Once again, though, Garber performs the songs well.) For the most part, however, Present Laughter lives up to its name. Grade: B?
(Tickets: Telecharge.com or 800-432-7250)