Way back in 1953, a fledgling theatrical troupe by the name of Monmouth Players chose as its first fully staged production Blithe Spirit, a comedy from the quill of actor-director-producer-playwright-songwriter Noel Coward. Here at the close of its frankly astonishing 62nd consecutive season of entertainments — a track record unequalled by any other community stage company in the area — the Middletown-based Players have revisited the work of that master multitasker with a production of Coward’s Present Laughter that wraps up the 2014-2015 season in an elegant (and mischievously ticking) package.
Sir Noel had already attained a reputation as a larger-than-life talent, with personality and ego to match, when he crafted the 1942 Laughter as his own starring vehicle — casting himself as Gary Essendine, a smoking-jacketed barnstormer of a thespian who can’t help but interfere with, cover up, grease the skids of, or toss a wrench into the affairs and ambitions of the many yes-men, hangers-on and true friends in his orbit.
The play that served as a highlight of a recent Two River Theater season (refer here for our coverage on redbankgreen) continues at the Players’ recently re-branded homestage space at the Navesink Arts Center – the former Navesink Library –for run-ending performances on Friday and Saturday night.
Directed by exec producer Paul Renick, and starring regional community stage regular Eric McDonough as Essendine, Present Laughter features an ensemble that includes Brandon Guerriero, Heidi Carter Hart, John Maschio, Megan Regan Maschio, Kristin Mueller, Michael Randazza, Lori Renick and Abby Rhode. While none of the principals were around for that inaugural show during the first Eisenhower administration, the Players under the current stewardship of the Renicks have maintained that venerable brand, and that historic homestage venue, well into a new century of many competing diversions — and even the arrival of professional playhouses here in once-sleepy Monmouth County.
The comedy continues at 8:15 pm on May 1 and 2 — with reservations ($20) obtained by calling (732)291-9211 or emailing information@ monmouthplayers.org — and of course the Players’ famous spread of homemade desserts will sweeten the deal at all performances.