Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Laughter, Presence

American Airlines Theater #3

Last week, C.Ell and I went to see "Present Laughter," a Noel Coward comedy starring Mr. Victor Garber.

(You know Victor, don't you?  If you weren't an Alias fan (and I wasn't), then perhaps you'd recognize him from his roles in "Legally Blonde," "Titanic," and "Sleepless in Seattle," or as Jesus in the movie version of "Godspell," way back when.)

Mr. Garber was delightful as the silk pajama-wearing, dressing gown-clad, histrionic actor/playboy ("Garry Essendine") who serves as the lynchpin for Coward's funny cast of characters.  The play takes place in 1930's London; the set for this production was Essendine's beautifully appointed, Art Deco-ful bachelor pad. 

(Art Deco is so glamorous and groovy, no?  Lacquered wood, bevelled mirrors - I heart thee.)

During the first intermission, I remarked to C.Ell that I thought the character "Lynn," Essendine's estranged wife, was just lovely, lovely, lovely.  It wasn't that the actress was exceptionally beautiful (though she wasn't chopped liver) and it wasn't that her outfits were especially handsome (though the seamed stockings were a nice touch).

My estimation of her loveliness had more to do with her comportment.  She was just so...poised. Confident. Graceful.  She crossed her legs at the ankles, sat up straight, carried herself well; she commanded attention without being impolite or showy.  She spoke easily, laughed liltingly; she was charming without unction.

"Like she went to finishing school," C.Ell agreed.

It made me wish that I had gone to finishing school, too.  (Do finishing schools still exist?)  Or, at the very least, made me wish I had better posture.  And maybe a pair of seamed stockings.  And a British accent.  Oh well.  Things to work on.

* * *

In addition to being a playwright, Noel Coward was a dancer, a lyricist, an actor, and many other things as well.  Though he passed away several decades ago, his plays continue to be popular.  (This is the second Coward revival on Broadway in as many years - last year's production of his play, "Blithe Spirit," starred Angela Lansbury.)

Before seeing "Present Laughter," I didn't know much about Coward, beyond the reference to him in the preamble to “The Lady is a Tramp” (...Alas, I missed the Beaux Arts Ball, and what is twice as sad / I was never at a party where they honored Noel Ca-ad (Coward)...)

I read up a bit on Coward's life, and it seems he was quite a character.  He left behind a wealth of pithy sayings.  Here are two I liked especially:

"I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me." 

"My importance to the world is relatively small. On the other hand, my importance to myself is tremendous. I am all I have to work with, to play with, to suffer and to enjoy. It is not the eyes of others that I am wary of, but of my own. I do not intend to let myself down more than I can possibly help, and I find that the fewer illusions I have about myself or the world around me, the better company I am for myself."

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