By Philip Pearce
PRESENT LAUGHTER, like other Noël Coward scripts, has become a 20th century classic, popular but challenging with American actors. Laura Coté, the new interim head of the Monterey Peninsula College drama department, has collected a group of locals and some drama students who attack the play with energy and a potpourri of attempted British accents. They give it a broad comic treatment that works a lot better in the long stretches of physical farce in Act 2 than in the verbal wit of Act 1.
The play’s about a fading matinee idol and his coterie of hangers on, some of whom try to support, others to exploit, others to seduce him. There’s Cindy Womack, likeable as his sharp-tongued, long suffering secretary Monica. As his other female support, Kristin Brewer looks sensational in her 1930s outfits but can’t help being too young and fragile for the role of his seasoned and feisty estranged wife Liz. Megan Root is properly snaky and ruthless as a femme fatale named Joanna, who lures him into adultery at the end of Act 1, and Lauren Young, an aptly named and talented junior member of the cast, is just about perfect as a ditzy ingénue named Daphne.
The chaps include a whistling skirt-chasing butler named Fred (the lively but sometimes inaudible Jacob Maksoudian) and two of Root’s rejected bed partners, her husband Henry (all quivering indignation in the hands of Eric Wishnie) and a bearded and bibulous boyfriend named Morris, played with a lot of brio by Sam Lonefeather Fife. Islam Omer is broadly funny as an obnoxious wannabe Angry Young Man playwright named Roland Maule.
As in any Noël Coward vehicle, all the wit and theatrics, of course, swirl around that man in the silk dressing gown. As Garry Essendine, the Big Name who has spent so many hours in starring roles that he can only function in theatrical postures and attitudes when facing real-life situations, Chris Figueroa is fascinating to watch at work. He takes up the postures and strikes the poses with the deft commitment and precision of a trained acrobat. But he is so deliberate and purposeful that his movements are not so much the ingrained reflexes of a tired stage veteran as the tricks of a clever guy participating in a game of charades.
Present Laughter plays for just one more weekend on the Morgan Stock main stage.