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Noel Coward Comedy Centers Around Chaos and Amusement
By Barry Shuck

Ah, the life of the comedy. Its whole mission is to provoke laughter and entertainment and bring the viewer into a better mood than when they were seated.

“Present Laughter,” written by Sir Noel Coward, is indeed classified as a comedy presented by Pensacola State College. This show places its various characters in unusual situations with often wacky results. But this comedy is so much more. It also has drama, devotion, thought-provoking scenes, deception, madcap servants, intrigue, royalty, turmoil and challenging feats of strength.

The storyline in this production centers on the leading man, Garry Essendine, who is a famous stage mega-star. His stardom has made him quite wealthy and adored by fans everywhere. Essendine has performed at virtually all the renowned live theatre houses in New York and Europe.

“It is a romantic comedy that makes fun of love, intrigue and the peculiarities and foibles of upper-class behavior,” said Rodney Whatley, Pensacola State College’s Director of Theatre. “My tech director, Bob Gandrup, likened the script to an episode of the television sitcom ‘Frasier.’ I think that comparison hits the nail on the head.”

The play induces the theatre-goer into the life of Essendine, who is a self-obsessed playboy type. As he is making preparations for a touring commitment to Africa, various characters bound into each scene, creating conflict and hilarity as their signature.

Because the focal point of this production revolves around Essendine, an experienced actor is critical to the show’s success. The character of Essendine is urbane, witty, charming, handsome and talented, and so the person cast required a magnetic actor of finely-honed comic gifts to work its considerable charms. Whatley found exactly what he needed in Bill Whalen, one of Pensacola’s most renowned stage performers.

“Bill is a consummate professional, and I welcome the opportunity to create stage magic with him,” Whatley explained. “Our students always learn so much by acting at his side.”

What soon develops borders on farce. In the next few days, the audience shadows Essendine as he encounters women who seek to seduce him, an ex-wife who never divorced him, a loony young playwright, uppity aristocrats, daffy employees, clueless friends and his own issues with an impending mid-life crisis.

“To Garry, the world is a big, beautiful playground, and life is his recess,” stated Whalen. “He is very optimistic but can get very bored, impatient and distracted easily. He loathes dishonesty in others and values loyalty above all else.”

The complications in Essendine’s life inspire tirades of self-pity, anxiety and anger—all delivered in the kind of crisp, witty, stylish dialogue for which Coward gained notoriety. Even in his personal time, Essendine is acting. In this play, we see his character tackle numerous parts performed around his friends mechanically and instinctively.

Another main character is an amorous woman by the name of Joanna who is married but is also sleeping with Essendine, Essendine’s agent and probably several members of the audience. She is trouble, and is quite knowledgeable about how to utilize her skills.

“Joanna is a woman who knows what she wants. She is vain, self-centered and pushy,” offered Sarah Slay, who is cast as Joanna. “She is also ambitious and charming, and knows how to effectively pursue what she desires.”

Most notably the antagonist of the play, the audience will certainly have issues with Joanna, as she symbolizes what happens when we let our selfish egos get out of control.

“The part of Joanna brings conflict to the play and stirs things up,” Whatley suggested. “She sees a bunch of people who are very close to each other, and she desperately wants to be part of that group. I sympathize with her without endorsing her.”

The splendor of this play is that each scene develops on the one before, while each character gradually becomes a real person with whom the theatre-goers will identify easily. The script is sprinkled with wit and layered in comedy.

Added to the list of this production’s pleasures are two other performance gems—Barbara Jacobs as Essendine’s mothering, wise-cracking secretary, and Kip Hayes as the young playwright whose mental capacity borders on the psychotic.

Jacobs’ lines are crisp in sarcasm while Hayes displays antics that should remind him that his next gig may involve Valium and several men in white coats.

“Those who come to see this show should expect to be entertained by interesting characters, funny situations and great verbal as well as physical comedy,” added Slay. “It is a great show for those looking for an evening of light-hearted entertainment.”

Other cast members include Elizabeth Campbell, Melissa Funk, Michael Miles, Rachael Paedae, Barry Shuck, Steven Nelson and Amanda Massie. The costumer is Edee Mathews-Green.

Be assured that the laugh meter will be oiled and functioning for this show.

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‘PRESENT LAUGHTER’
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, May 20-22, 27-29
WHERE: Pensacola State College, Ashmore Fine Arts Auditorium, 1000 College Blvd.
COST: $10 general admission; $8 seniors and students; Free for PSC students
DETAILS: 484-1847 or pensacolastate.edu