Saturday, January 30, 2010

Present Laughter

photo: T. Charles Erickson

In The Roundabout's ill-judged revival you see plenty of what you never should in Noel Coward: sweat and effort. As the vainglorious stage actor at the center of the comedy, Victor Garber looks every inch the distinguished part from opera slippers to plush smoking jacket but he surprisingly seems to lack the larger-than-life size that's needed to drive the show. To compensate he pushes hard, often with fatal flop-sweat results. The production doesn't do him many favors, thanks to direction that doesn't find the needed rhythm and a supporting cast that misses the mark. Brooks Ashmanskas, usually a dependably spot-on performer, gives a hyperactive performance that people are talking about for the wrong reasons: he's so far out of the style of the piece that the laughs he mugs for work actively against the play. I watched most of his performance through two fingers. A couple of solid performances, from Harriet Harris (delicious as the actor's cynical secretary) and Lisa Banes (exactly in the style of the piece as the wise, sharp-witted ex-wife) are the evening's mitigating pleasures.

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