Chaos is funny

Cast brings humor to the hysteria in Butte College’s spring production of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter

HOW DOES SHE MANAGE? <br>Liz Essendine (Suzanne Papini) tries to keep things sane while managing the many comers and goers in the Essendine household, including Morris (played by Javier P. Lopez, left) and Hugo (Jim Felix).

Liz Essendine (Suzanne Papini) tries to keep things sane while managing the many comers and goers in the Essendine household, including Morris (played by Javier P. Lopez, left) and Hugo (Jim Felix).

Photo By Tom Angel

When I first laid eyes on the set for the Butte College production of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, I spotted the door sitting over the center of the stage. It led me to expect to see All in the Family’s Carroll O’Connor come through. In other words, I laughed to myself at the sight of this set. This production was immediately funny.

The director’s notes included in the playbill describe Present Laughter as being Noel Coward’s most autobiographical play. “It is a comic exaggeration of the feverish, almost hysterical life that whirled about Coward in his heyday in the 1930s,” writes the director, Barry Piccinino. This is true, butmore important is what Piccinino’s production does to you—it makes you laugh.

The opening action takes place in the main room of the home of our main character, famed Broadway actor Garry Essendine, played by Alan Lunde. It is morning, and the young Daphine Stillington (Shannon Foy), apparently one of many “groupies” orbiting Essendine (as the play progresses, this indeed appears to be the case—the ladies and the gentlemen love him), surprises and annoys Essendine’s maid, butler and secretary with her presence. She also makes the audience laugh with her pleasantly cute rendition of an extremely eager young woman mesmerized by the charm and fame of Essendine.

This is a play about a man who can deny himself to no one. With the entrance of each character, a new problem or a new complication emerges. Each character is tied to Essendine in some way or desperately wants to be. For example, Daphine is star struck and wants only the opportunity of love. Essendine simply cannot say no. Instead he puts her in the spare room and tries to forget her.

This is the condition of Essendine’s fame. And, while Essendine is continually protesting these attachments, he also relies on them for everything from coffee and conversation to love and sex. And the characters who enter his home all find their own particular little niches in which to hide and confide in Essendine. Essendine protests, but he doth protest too much.

Like Foy, Lunde was funny. His Essendine was ridiculous, parading in shiny red pajamas and a variety of house robes. He was big and loud, squawking and gasping at each development of his character’s life.

Caught in the midst to clean up the mess (although they too add to the “drama” in their own ways) are Essendine’s estranged wife, Liz, and his secretary, Miss Erikson. Played by Suzanne Papini and Susan Williams, respectively, these were my favorite characters.

Both worked to manage the rotation of people coming in and out of Essendine’s life. While Liz coolly and calmly hatched plans to protect her husband from a predatory floozy, Miss Erikson tried to frantically juggle all of the demands upon Essendine. The two offered the viewer the closest thing to sanity: a little hope of survival in the midst of the chaos of Garry Essendine’s life. The two manage it so well, I was left with the subtle feeling that this could all work out for Essendine.

And in some chaotic but hilarious way it does.