"present laughter"

Published November 17, 1996


Present Laughter with Frank Langella and Steve Ross (11/17/96)



Reviewing Scott Elliott’s production of Present Laughter, Ben Brantley wrote that “the ever-magnetic Frank Langella, in a role he was born for, is having an infectiously fine time as Coward's alter ego, Garry Essendine, a famous, self-dramatizing actor who never met a mirror he didn't like.” The production, which features Langella’s bare midriff and full-frontal nudity (not from Langella), suggests that “beneath the sleek surfaces of all those dressing gowns and evening clothes lies a very human host for carnal appetites and moral decay.”

The scene that caused a bit of controversy featured Tim Hopper who, playing the young playwright Roland Maule, is infatuated with Garry Essendine. He throws off his overcoat, stands nude before Essendine, and plants a big kiss on him. Director Elliott told William Grimes of The New York Times: “I read the play, and to me it’s very apparent, what Coward had in mind with the character, but in 1939 he couldn’t say it the way he wanted to say it. The reality of the situation is the guy’s obsessed with him.” Some purists felt that Coward would have been appalled, but Graham Payn, Coward’s companion for many years, disagreed. “I’ll tell you something right now. Noël wouldn’t have bothered about the nude scene at all. The whole show is more sexual, which I think is right, because Noël would have moved with the times.”

Steve Ross, who played Fred, also enhanced the play with a mini piano recital of period songs, before each act. Dubbed the “Crown Prince of Cabaret,” Steve’s love for Noël Coward has been reflected in countless performances over the years. He served as Music Director and curated the opening program in A Marvelous Party: Noël Coward at 100, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’ series marking the Coward centennial.

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