Present Laughter

Fans of The West Wing might recall a moment when President Bartlet is sarcastically called on his "Noel Coward-esque wit." President Bartlet would love this revival of Mr. Coward's Present Laughter.

This fun and fluffy play, centering on the zany goings on at theatre impresario Garry Essendine's studio,  is filled to the brim with Noel Coward-esque wit, that kind of smart, snappy dialogue—especially among mixed company—that you rarely hear anymore. (No doubt it's the kind of repartee for which West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin aims.) The kind of dialogue that doesn't talk down to its audience or its characters; dialogue that proves women are smart and strong, equal to the men with whom they keep company. (Three cheers for director Moritz von Stuelpnagel (a Tony nominee for Hand to God) for the terrific pacing and for letting things go crazy without going off the tracks.)

We're lucky to have such a pitch perfect production of such a play, and it's an embarrassment of riches to have this cast. Tony nominees Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, Hir) and Kate Burton (Hedda Gabbler, The Elephant Man) seem to relish every dry one-liner, every zinger, every eye-roll. These broads know how to have fun on stage. (Cobie Smulders, the How I Met Your Mother star who is making her Broadway debut, does fine work as another woman in Garry's life, though she doesn't make nearly the impression Nielsen and Burton do.)

For me, though, the absolute treat was getting to see Kevin Kline on stage. I've had a little crush on the two-time Tony winner and Oscar winner for years, and I couldn't wait to see him ham it up. He's in top form. He plays Garry Essendine, a VIP in the 1939 theatre world, and acts like one. He's dramatic. He's over-the-top. He's needy and immature. And, of course, he's lovable. Given Garry's penchant for theatricality, there's nothing Kline could do that would be too big. He zealously chews scenery, and doesn't miss an opportunity to turn a small moment or movement or look into a big laugh. It's a measured performance, to be sure; he's playing a character, not a caricature. One of the things that's so appealing about Kline is his dignity, and so there's a distinguished sense to his grounded performance. Kevin Kline is a national treasure, and we're luck he's on Broadway, giving us the present of laughter.