- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell
Present Laughter is the best thing Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro has done this year.
With about a dozen plays done in their small, but very versatile, theater on Centre Street, they saved the best for last.
Noel Coward wrote Present Laughter in the middle of World War II, a war he was very much involved in, but there isn’t even a hint of the blitz or the war.
Present Laughter was written to keep reality at bay. It does so with so much wit and elegance and charm that it is impossible to realize what England was like when it was conceived.
The play has been revived again and again since its premier in 1942, with every major British star having a crack at Garry Essendine, the play’s lead and a thinly-disguised Noel Coward.
This time around Essendine is played by Noah Wagner. He is so wonderful, so arch and so languid, so delightful in his many dressing gowns, so continuously playing himself to the equally wonderful cast that you’ll forget you’re at Little Fish and think you are in the West End. (In a particularly cold West End theater, though. Bring several warm wraps to stand the theatrical cold. They also have blankets to lend.)
The play takes place in Essendine’s London flat over the period of a week, while he is preparing for a tour of Africa. The play opens with Daphne Stillington appearing from the spare bedroom. She spent the night, she explains to the nonplussed staff, because she left her latch-key at home. This doesn’t excite Fred (Greg Wickes, Essendine’s valet,) his maid Miss Erikson (the dead-pan Tracey Whitse) or his secretary (the very businesslike Shirley Hatton.) They’ve seen it all before and will see it again, apparently. Nor does it disturb his long-estranged wife Liz Essendine (played with a crisp but caring distance by Amanda Kerr,) perfectly coiffed, perfectly indifferent to a possible scandal. Kerr has been in several plays at Little Fish this year. Her range as an actress is phenomenal.
Director James Rice plays Hugo Lypiatt, part of Essendine’s “family,” which he depends on for support. He doesn’t know that his wife Joanna (Kimberley Patterson) is having an affair with Essendine. And then, there is Roland Maule, a playwright Essendine foolishly said he’d help, played by Andrew Nowak with a little more gay inflection than would have been tolerated in Coward’s time. (Coward was gay, but that is another story.)
Wagner never seems more than a bit put out by the chaos he has brought to life, preening and delivering Coward’s wit with no effort at all. Adriana Lambert is credited with the costume design, which is perfect. The play is set in a sort of Neverland, divorced from reality but perfectly realized. Go see it with a cocktail in hand and a warm sweater, and you’ll want to see it again.
Tickets are $25, and $22 for seniors and students.
The play runs through Dec. 15.
Details: (310) 512-6030; www.littlefishtheatre.org
Venue: Little Fish Theatre
Location: 777 Centre St., San Pedro