The University of Wyoming Department of Theatre and Dance is set to open the 2019-2020 theater season with a comedy by playwright Noel Coward.
“Present Laughter” is scheduled to run at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16-19 and 2 p.m. Oct. 20 on the Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts Main Stage. Tickets are $14 for the general public, $11 for seniors and $7 for students. Anyone who calls the Fine Arts Box Office or purchases tickets at the box office in person can take advantage of a two-for-one special.
The play takes place during a few days in the life of comedy actor Garry Essendine, who is suave, self-obsessed and facing a mid-life crisis. During the course of the story, as he prepares to leave for a tour in Africa, he juggles admirers, a woman trying to seduce him, his own ex-wife and his employees.
“All sorts of comedic complications arise,” said Lou Anne Wright, who is directing the production together with Lee Hodgson. Both are faculty members at UW.
Wright said she has a soft spot for Coward, who played the title role himself in the premiere production. He based the role on his own life as a starring actor known for his wit.
“We both love Noel Coward’s sensibility, the way he plays with language, and the fact that he’s just out and out hilarious much of the time,” she said.
Coward wrote “Present Laughter” in 1939, but it wasn’t produced until 1942 because of the start World War II. Theaters were ordered to be closed, and Coward served the war effort in the propaganda office and then as a touring entertainer.
Hodgson’s costume designs take actors and the audience straight into the 1930s, Wright said.
“Our students are enjoying wearing them and getting to experience that sensibility — how people moved back then, how the clothing created a different way of looking at things and a different sense of who you were,” she said.
As Gary interacts with his ex-wife, Liz, the audience learns that they still love each other even though they disagree about Gary’s career.
“They’re comedically butting heads a few times, but at the core there’s still a very strong love and a strong relationship,” she said.
Liz is one of several strong female characters that appear in the play, which is another element that drew Wright to it.
“Even though we’re in a period of time in which women were sometimes relegated to certain careers, what you find with the women in this play is they know what they want and they go for it,” she said.
Another theme she appreciated in the play is the way Gary makes his own family from among the friends that surround him.
“It’s a really cool message, and one that resonates today,” she said.
Coward’s plays are still produced on a regular basis, which Wright attributed to their thematic relevance as well as the fact that they’re just plain funny.