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'Present Laughter' is full of wit, wackiness

PRESENT LAUGHTER, Lees Main Stage, Pioneer Memorial Theatre, University of Utah campus; through April 7; tickets: $17-$36, with discounts for University of Utah students and groups. All seats are reserved; call 581-6961. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.A cast of consummate actors, a sophisticated set — Noel Coward couldn't have asked for more than what Pioneer Theatre Company delivers in this production of "Present Laughter."

Max Robinson, a veteran of some 80 PTC performances, stars in this one. The director, John Going, has also been at PTC before — though only about one-tenth as many times as his star.

Robinson plays Garry Essendine, who is ostensibly the heartthrob of the British stage in 1946. Essendine is an overly dramatic dramatist, a playboy and a cynic, but he is also an honest man. Robinson captures him perfectly.

Pamela Wiggins, as Garry's secretary, and Kate Levy as his almost-ex-wife, are also grand.

Well, truthfully, there's not a disappointing performance in the bunch. Jayne Luke, as Miss Erikson, the maid, is delightfully odd. She has a cigarette dangling from her lips and her stockings bunched around her ankles, and she walks bow-legged — she's a picture.

The only jarring note in the entire evening is that Robinson is supposed to be 41, and Julie-Anne Liechty, one of many women who can't find her latch-key and is "forced" to stay all night, is supposed to be 21. Both are obviously older than the script indicates, but at least there is an obvious difference in their ages.

Meanwhile, Robert Peterson and Anthony Newfield play Garry's trusted friends, and Christa Scott-Reed looks suitably untrustworthy as Peterson's wife. Scott Scahfer is Fred, the butler. Margaret Crowell makes a brief appearance as Lady Saltburn. And an actor named Erik Steele is hilarious as Roland Maule, another wacky fan.

As the subject matter for comedy, adultery is fraught with danger. "Present Laughter" must be bright and light and witty. The set (James Wolk, scenic designer) creates exactly the right tone — modern and slick.

Sitting in the audience, you laugh at every betrayal. You come away feeling that the characters, like the set itself, are modern and slick and quite incapable of being hurt by each other's infidelities.

Sensitivity rating: Some swearing. Many allusions to adultery.