SBCC theater revives “Present Laughter,” a ’40s comedy

SBCC+theater+revives+Present+Laughter%2C+a+40s+comedy

Arthur Hanket, Isabel Nelson and Jenna Scanlon in The Theatre Group at City College’s production of “Present Laughter”

Tram Nguyen, Staff Writer

Has anyone consciously obtained true happiness?

“Present Laughter,” the revived comedy originally written by Noël Coward in 1939, addresses this question during its run at the Garvin Theatre from March 8 through 23.

R. Michael Gros, co-chair of the theater arts department directs the new play, which features Arthur Hanket, a guest actor from New York.

“We’ll see a very nice slice of the Noël Coward’s version of what life a successful stage star would have,” Gros said. “It’s closest to a French bedroom farce.”

Hanket describes the play as a “sex comedy” about the life of Garry Essendine, a successful, handsome, aging matinée idol. As he prepares for a tour to Africa, Essendine reluctantly experiences love affairs with multiple different women. The character was written as a reflection of Coward himself.

The play allows the audience to intrude upon the private world of a star in his fancy apartment in downtown London.

“Quite frankly, our audience just loves to have a behind-the-scenes peek,” Gros said. “Whether this is true or not, they love being able to spy on the lives of stars.”

The play is very musical, as Essendine sometimes plays the piano. Music composed by Coward will also be featured.

Songs from the World War II era permeate the play along with colorful costumes from the period. The setting generates a taste of 1930s architecture in an upscale area of England.

The play consists of articulate dialogues delivered at rapid-fire pace.

“The hard part about this play is the language is written very densely,” Hanket said. “I have a line that I’m still trying to perfect how to say it.”

Hanket said they chose to perform an old play for a modern audience in order to convey the “crazy language” and “sentence structure of a different era.”

The actors have to be aware of the speed of their discourse as well as the audience’s ability to understand it, Hanket added.

Theatre arts major Katherine Bottoms plays Daphne Stillington, a twenty-one-year-old blonde who falls in love with Essendine, just like other female characters in the play. This will be her second time working with Gros after the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” last semester.

“We’d like to discover the characters ourselves, and [other directors] sort of just tell you exactly what they want, but Michael gives you a lot of room to discover on your own,” Bottoms said.

The comedy’s expected to be continuously surprising from beginning to end.

“Love is exciting and dangerous and what we all seek, “ said Gros. “We’ll almost do anything to find true love.”

Ticket price ranges from $8 to $23, and free admittance is accepted with a student activity sticker.