Present Laughter | The Long Center for the Performing Arts

Austin Shakespeare Presents A Window into Noël Coward’s Comedy with ‘Present Laughter’

A window into Noël Coward’s Comedy

Austin Shakespeare follows their successful costumed staged reading of Wolf Hall with an equally rich production of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, November 16 – December 4 in Rollins Studio Theatre. Director Ann Ciccolella gives us a look into Coward’s career and Austin Shakespeare’s interpretation of one of his best works.

Austin Shakespeare celebrates plays that love language. Not just Shakespeare, but Stoppard and Schiller, too—and yes, in the comedy of Noël Coward as well. Our 2013 production of Coward’s  Design for Living brought to life its smart language, witty banter and tender love of people. We discovered Noël Coward as a heart-felt writer, often mistaken for a stuffy one. Now, in Present Laughter, we romp in his all-out comedy!

When we start rehearsals, I set for our cast a “standard to measure our success” as an ensemble. For Present Laughter, it is to “notice joy!” That means joy in the play, for sure, but it also means joy in the rehearsal room, and joy as we live our days—seeing joy in a child’s face, noticing a dog leaping. As a director, I also look for a metaphor that evokes the entire play for us; for Present Laughter, it is the “bubble” sparkling, hanging and disappearing as ephemeral as live theater itself.

Join the fun!

Steve Cruz, Austin Shakespeare actor playing Roland Maule—the crazy aspiring playwright—reflects, “This is one of my favorite scripts of all time! Rich characters of mighty conviction, played with the whimsy and effervescence of champagne bubbles. What more could an actor ask for?”

Paul Beutel, Long Center’s Senior Programming Manager calls it, “a delicious romp about the romantic and professional travails of a British comic actor in the 1940s. Noël Coward’s Present Laughter is the kind of polished, witty farce that we just don’t see anymore. . . probably because few contemporary playwrights can match his style and facility with language. Austin Shakespeare should be more than up the challenge of bringing this delightful classic to life.”

We will introduce young middle and high school audiences to the genius and lively spirit of Noël Coward. Every performance has student ticket prices, and Long Center’s eyeGO project provides six tickets for each performance at just $5 for high schoolers.

In the Spring, Austin Shakespeare will stage our first by Harold Pinter; ironically Pinter loved Coward’s precise use of language, and Coward equally admired Pinter’s craftsmanship.

Color Blind Casting and Color Aware Casting

We are thrilled to have one of Austin’s most celebrated actors, Marc Pouhé, play the role Noël Coward originated himself, the leading man, Gary Essendine. As Austin Shakespeare’s artistic director, I often cast actors of color in classical roles. Marc, himself, played Cyrano, Macbeth (twice, for us), and Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew.

In my youth, I saw James Earl Jones and thought how fabulous he would be in classics like Checkov—I wanted his “Uncle Vanya.” It was clear to me that actors of color should not be limited. Honestly, Marc is so comic off-stage, audiences deserve to experience his joyful hum on-stage! I am intrigued by what audiences will say in Talk Backs about something that was forbidden—a Black matinee idol in 1940.

Rediscovering Noël Coward

Noël Coward was born into a lower middle class family, but started acting as a child. Coward worked hard his whole life to become a composer, poet, short story writer, novelist, and one of theater history’s most brilliant playwrights. He played hard, too, traveling the world and becoming friends with celebrities like Marlene Dietrich. His most celebrated plays are Private LivesBrief Encounter, and Blithe Spirit. His rise to fame as a playwright began with The Vortex, which shocked and attracted critics and audiences, alike.

We sometimes forget how many fabulous songs Noël Coward wrote as a composer and lyricist! Check out “Mad About the Boy,” “I Went to a Marvelous Party,” “I’ll See You Again.” As an actor and singer, Coward lives on on iTunes and YouTube. Discover why Coward became the world’s most in-demand playwright in this wonderful interview on acting that gives a range of his life, a life to be memorialized in an upcoming British bio-pic starring Chris Colfer (Glee), flanked by Vanessa Redgrave and Ian McKellen.

We look forward to introducing Coward’s high-flying wit to young audiences in an informance, with scenes at the Rollins and a Q&A with actors at 11am Friday, December 2.

Join in the fun! Present Laughter opens Wednesday, November 16 in Rollins Studio Theatre.

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