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Behind the Curtain of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter

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Go behind the curtain of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter with Director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, Executive Producer Jordan Roth and cast members Cobie Smulders and Kate Burton. Noël Coward’s Present Laughter comes to GREAT PERFORMANCES on Friday, November 3rd at 9PM (check local listings). The play continues the Broadway’s Best lineup on PBS.

KRISTINE NIELSEN: How would I describe Present Laughter in one word scrumptious.

[Instrumental music] MORITZ VON STUELPNAGEL: Present Laughter follows egocentric celebrity Garry Essendine in a series of philandering escapades as he confronts a new kind of mid-life crisis.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: Good God.

I look ninety-eight!

COBIE SMULDERS: Present Laughter is about this group of characters, all sort of revolving around Mr. Garry Essendine.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: Where''s my present?

KATE BURTON AS LIZ ESSENDINE: On the piano bench.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: It''s not another glass horse, is it?

KATE BURTON AS LIZ ESSENDINE: No, it''s a dressing gown for Africa.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: A dressing gown, Monica!

Just what we wanted!

COBIE SMULDERS: It''s sort of an insight into this world in the late 1930s.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: Don''t anybody say anything important for five minutes.

COBIE SMULDERS: It''s really Garry Essendine''s world.

He has his secretary, who he''s had for decades, and his ex-wife, and his producer, director.

They''re characters that are sort of on the outskirts of this circle, who all, for one reason or another, want to be a part of it.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: Like a sunbeam upon the tide which the dark shadows hide TEDRA MILLAN AS DAPHNE STILLINGTON: But Garry--! KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: Quiet!

There''s more.

KRISTINE NIELSEN: He is a superstar of the stage.

KATE BURTON: And we kind of meet him at a crisis moment, thinking about his life and who he loves, and who loves him.

MORITZ VON STUELPNAGEL: And what is this strange community of people that I have assembled to represent a kind of family?

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: I was in love with you for longer than I was with anyone else, you can''t grumble.

KATE BURTON: I can honestly say with a lot of love in my heart that Kevin Kline is probably one of the most extraordinary actors.

KRISTINE NIELSEN: One of our great, great, great, great, great comedians, I think.

JORDAN ROTH: Watching Kevin Kline explore and experiment, and, find ways to engage with everyone and everything around him and then watching that process come back the next night with something a little more perfected that was for me the great gift of this production.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: For thirty years I''ve given you everything.

I gave you my youth.

Where is my youth today?

KATE BURTON: Well I have a very interesting relationship to this play, I think I''m the only person on Broadway who has been in two different Broadway productions of Present Laughter in the last thirty-five years.

I played Daphne Stillington, the young ingénue with George C. Scott thirty-five years ago at the Circle in the Square, so I have played the very youngest lady in the play, now I''m playing one of the older ones!

KATE BURTON AS LIZ ESSENDINE: How do you do?

TEDRA MILLAN AS DAPHNE STILLINGTON: Mrs Essendine?

Do you I mean, are you Garry''s wife?

KATE BURTON AS LIZ ESSENDINE: Yes.

TEDRA MILLAN AS DAPHNE STILLINGTON: Oh, I thought you were divorced?

KATE BURTON AS LIZ ESSENDINE: Oh, we never quite got around to it.

MORITZ VON STUELPNAGEL: Present Laughter carries forward a tradition of the comedic sex farce, championed in Broadway in the West End, and certainly Noel Coward is a comedic genius in that way.

COBIE SMULDERS AS JOANNA LYPPIATT: I did the most idiotic thing.

I lost my latchkey.

KRISTINE NELSON AS MONICA REED: You lost your latchkey.

JORDAN ROTH: It is some of the most extraordinary comedy writing.

KRISTINE NIELSEN: It is much more verbally dexterous.

It''s musical in a way, without being a musical, that you have to listen for the comedy.

KRISTINE NIELSEN AS MR: What on Earth''s the matter?

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: Have you or have you not seen me over-act?

KRISTINE NIELSEN AS MR: Frequently.

KRISTINE NIELSEN: I''m outside the door in his office, and I listen every night to be able to come in and hit the right notes.

COBIE SMULDERS: There is something in the language of Noel Coward.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: Every word, every phrase, every change of mood cunningly planned.

COBIE SMULDERS: Obviously it''s not how we talk now, I''m not even sure it''s how they talked then, but it''s, um, a refined way of speaking.

COBIE SMULDERS AS JOANNA LYPPIATT: You look strangely young every now and then.

COBIE SMULDERS: The words are like weapons, and especially for my character, who is sort of playing with Garry and I consider them to be sort of equal, so they''re constantly in this power struggle with each other.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: There''s a certain arrogance about you, a little too much self-assurance.

COBIE SMULDERS AS JOANNA LYPPIATT: You don''t care for competition, I see.

KRISTINE NIELSEN: It''s like being in a fencing match with people, it''s really, really fun.

PETER FRANCIS JAMES AS HENRY LYPPIATT: Now look here, Garry KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: No I won''t look here!

No, no, no, no!

JORDAN ROTH: In this play, we get to see actors at the top of their game, giving us truly a comedy Broadway masterclass.

COBIE SMULDERS: People who have been doing this for many years, so they are pros, and, um, I get to not only have the experience of being on a stage in front of people every night, but I am a student as well, and I''m just absorbing all of this amazing creativity and, and passion from the people on stage.

KATE BURTON AS LIZ ESSENDINE: You''d better take my car, Joanna, it''s downstairs.

TEDRA MILLAN AS DAPHNE STILLINGTON: The chauffeur''s got red hair and his name''s Frobisher.

SANDRA SHIPLEY AS LADY SALTBURN: Daphne!

KATE BURTON: The reason this play gets done so often is because of the fact that it really resounds with audiences of all ages, and it is one of those universally-themed plays.

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: I see myself all the time!

Eating, drinking, loving, suffering!

Sometimes I think I''m going mad.

Mad!

TEDRA MILLAN AS DAPHNE STILLINGTON: I could help you if only you''d let me!

KEVIN KLINE AS GARRY ESSENDINE: I''m sorry dear, what did you say?