Cygnet’s ‘Present Laughter’: You May Want to See It More Than Once

Noel Coward’s play, Present Laughter, was written in 1939 but not performed until 1942 because theatre companies were closed due to World War II. A lighthearted sex comedy, it served to cheer audiences and announce that theatre is important in tough times as well as good times. Cygnet Theatre’s production, well cast, and exceptionally well directed by Rosina Reynolds, reminds us that it is important to laugh, even if COVID is still with us.

Sean Murray and Shana Wride
Photos by Karli Cadel

Garry Essendine (Cygnet Artistic Director Sean Murray) is a highly successful actor, admired by scores of fans. He is about to depart for a tour of Africa when many people from his life descend upon his household, with comic effect. There’s Daphne (Lindsey Young), who has lost her latch key, spent the night and emerges in one of the many dressing gowns worn throughout the evening (costumes cleverly designed by Elisa Benzoni). There’s household staff, Fred (Drew Bradford), the ever-ready valet, Monica (Melissa Fernandes), the ever-efficient secretary, and Miss Erikson (Annie Hinton), the slightly bemused housekeeper. Ms. Hinton also appears briefly as Lady Saltburn, Daphne’s aunt. Hovering over the scene is Garry’s ex-wife, Liz (Shana Wride), ever ready with gossip, particularly about Garry’s manager, Morris (Steven Lone), who apparently is having an affair with Joanna (Amanda Sitton), wife of his producer, Henry (James Newcomb, though David Humphrey played the role at the performance I saw). Also arriving is Roland (Trevor Cruse) an aspiring playwright. Garry immediately regrets having agreed to read Roland’s play, but it takes a while to convince Roland to leave.

Some days later, Joanna appears, also claiming to have lost her latch key. She, too, appears in a dressing gown after having spent the night.

Sean Murray and Amanda Sitton

Later still, Garry is getting ready to depart for his African tour when the characters reappear, each informing Gary that they have purchased a ticket to accompany him. How does it all sort out? You’ll have to see it to find out.

Laugh lines come one on top of another. Ms. Reynolds’ direction insures that not only will gags be funny, but they’ll also be accompanied by “takes,” facial expressions that indicate the characters’ reactions to the situation. Those intricacies keep the audience cracking up all evening. Mr. Murray is entirely on the mark as the egotistical star, but the entire ensemble takes Ms. Reynolds’ direction and runs with it to hilarious effect.

Present Laughter is staged in Garry’s home, and Tony Cucuzzella has designed a unit set that befits the home of a famous actor. Colby Freel lights it for both daylight and night. TJ Fucella’s sound design took a bit of time to adjust to the actors’ voices, but eventually the sound was clear, something crucial to the jokes landing. Kian Kline-Chilton handled a casting process that resulted in a marvelous ensemble. Bonnie Durbin designed the extensive props, Peter Herman designed wigs and make-up, and Vanessa Dinning coached the dialects. Company production manager Craig Campbell served as Stage Manager.

Performances run through April 29. You may enjoy it so much that you’ll want to see it more than once.

Performs Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30 PM, Friday at 8:00 PM, Saturday at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM and Sunday at 2:00 PM. Free parking is available at lots near the theatre. Allow time to park and walk to the theatre building, however, as there is only a small parking that is specifically dedicated to Cygnet Theatre, and it requires a reservation.


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Cygnet Theatre
Old Town Theatre 4040 Twiggs St. San Diego CA 92110 Work Phone: (619) 337-1525 Website: Cygnet Theatre website
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