No Time Like the Present for Kevin Kline

by Michael Gross Photographed by Krista Kennell/PMC
Friday, April 7, 2017

Sitting on the aisle of the St. James Theater at opening night of producer Jordan Roth‘s revival of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter starring Kevin Kline, mid-way through the first act, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter‘s tonsorial signature, his fluffy white wings of hair, were flapping furiously as if seeking to achieve lift-off through laughter. The production, a triumphant mix of low comedy and arch sophistication, had already done that, beginning with Kline’s entrance as Gerry Essendine, a grand, ever-on British thespian, a role originated by the the playwright himself.

“Everybody worships me,” he declares in a revealing moment. “It’s nauseating.”

Summoning recollections of John Barrymore in Twentieth Century, Kline dominates the evening in a superb performance that is both scene stealing and generous to his strong cast of supporting players. Tedra Millan as a debutante, Ellen Harvey as his frumpy Scandanavian maid and cook, Kristine Nielsen as Essendine’s bemused secretary-enabler, Kate Burton as his wife, Bhavesh Patel as a wannabe playwright-cum-stalker, Reg Rogers as Essendine’s director, and Cobie Smulders as a destructive lust-object for each of the male principals, all stand out despite their presence in the hilarious crowd doing endless bits of business around Kline.

Though Carter was dressed like a typical any-night theatergoer, in a zip-neck pullover [CORRECTION: “the vest had buttons, not a zipper,” says Mr. Carter], many in the crowd–which also included Carter’s wife Anna Scott, Joel Grey, Zac Posen, Beth Rudin deWoody and AVENUE columnist Debbie Bancroft, lived up to a Coward-era idealof an opening night audience, some even donning gowns and dinner jackets for the evening, which ended with a lavish supper at Gotham Hall. There, reserved tables for the select circled a white grand piano and the situational hoi polloi circled all of them, balancing plates of hanger steak and flutes of champagne as they awaited the stars.

The cast arrived late and Kline, for one, looked like he’d used up his good humor onstage as he posed for the step-and-repeat piranha. He can be forgiven; he’s seen it all before. The reaction of the crowd made it clear they would happily see his Present Laughter again and again and again.

As one character says, not entirely kindly, “It might actually work….in New York.”


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