DALLAS DALLAS -- Theatre Three is having its best year in at least a decade, having kicked off 2012 with two of the best local productions of the year so far, The Farnsworth Invention and Superior Donuts. The streak continues with a revival of Noel Coward's 1939 confection Present Laughter.
Even for the lighter side of wit-meister Coward's work, he's a tricky one. It's hard to remember the last time a local theater got one of his relatively weightier works, like Private Lives or Blithe Spirit, right. T3 comes as close as it gets in Bruce R. Coleman's production, thanks to the casting. Coleman also does the hit-and-miss costumes.
Garry (Gregory Lush) is a successful stage actor and cad who lives in the home he once shared with his wife, Liz (Lydia Mackay), from whom he is separated, but with whom he still remains good friends.. It's not uncommon for Garry to stay out late drinking and wake up to find another woman in the house, such as naïve Daphne (Jad Saxton) or cunning Joanna (Lisa-Gabrielle Greene). They're not the only ones enamored with him; a young playwright Roland (Sam Swanson) is apparently his biggest fan/stalker.
In the '30s and '40s, Coward couldn't write gay relations as openly as we can now, and although Roland is presented as a crazed fan, it's obvious he has other urges directed at Roland. Coleman, Lush and Swanson handle this balancing act deftly. Lush rightfully plays Garry as a sexual magnet who can keep those who crush on him at a safe distance, using the weapons of wit and snobbery. He can back up his pomposity, able to distinguish between "pseudo-intellectual poppycock" when need be; even the way he swirls his brandy conveys his unwavering confidence.
Mackay, Green and Arianna Movassah as Garry's' assistant Monica all ace the British accents as appropriate to their class, and hit the comic notes of the dialogue splendidly. No shilly-shallying from them. Green peps up the proceedings significantly from the moment she walks onto David Walsh's sprawling, good-looking set.
The play's title uses the pronunciation of "present" as the adjective, as in here and now. But with T3's staging, it also applies to the verb. Coward presents the laughs deftly as if at one of his marvelous parties, and Theatre Three's cast delivers on the promise.