by Kevin M. Thomas
Noel Coward’s wit is timeless. Most of his best work was done in the 1930s. Yet his sophisticated and often subversive romps are still fresh and lively and often teeming with sexual innuendo – often blatantly gay.
Such is the case of “Present Laughter,” his 1939 play that is presently causing laughter in the Theatre Rhinoceros production, extended through July 2 at San Francisco’s Eureka Theatre.
The best thing the Rhino did in this production is to cast the show’s director John Fisher, in the lead role of Garry Essendine, a self-absorbed actor who seems to be beating them off with a stick – women and men – all of whom are attracted more to his bohemian lifestyle than actually him.
Fisher has a field day in the role, mastering not only a high brow accent, but getting very physical in the role, showing no fear as he almost takes scenes over the top, but reeling it in just before he goes from slapstick to caricature.
He’s a great vessel for the work of Coward, who actually played the part himself when it was first produced.
The Rhino production also has excellent and Broadway level set designs, thanks to the great work of Gilbert Johnson.
Fisher’s ensemble are also in fine form – playing off Fisher, the actor very well, and seemingly well directed by Fisher.
Notable is Ryan Engstrom, who doubles as a personal valet and does musical interludes on the piano between set changes.
Marvin Peterle Rocha is a sexy and strapping addition to the show as a young and very eager playwright who seems on the edge of emotionally exploding in some way. Adrienne Dolan and Amanda Farbstein also are great additions as two of Garry’s amorous starlets who all seem dopey eyed, which is quite the juxtaposition of his deadpan secretary and wife, drolly played by Kathryn Wood and Tina D’Elisa.
Although perhaps 20 minutes too long, “Present Laughter” is still a great period piece that is an excellent choice to be presented by Theatre Rhinoceros.
To get tickets (ending soon, so don’t wait), go to www.therhino.org.