On American stages, British comedy often needs some extra spark to make it connect with the audience; arch humor by itself isn't enough.
Circuit Playhouse's entertaining revival of Noel Coward's "Present Laughter" doesn't just have that extra spark. It has an internal energy source that could, if contained within a reactor, solve a major energy crisis.
That power source is the actor Jerre Dye.
In almost everything he does, Dye is a radiant and generous presence on the stage.
As the maniacally flamboyant Garry Essendine, a role once played by Coward himself, Dye's comic interpretation is above all else, American. His enormous physicality owes more to Jerry Lewis or Jim Carey than Ian McKellen or Peter O'Toole (two Brits who have also played the role). With eyeballs that telescope from their sockets, a jaw that drops on cue, and dramatic gestures that would look perfectly reasonable in a silent film, Dye plays a famous actor who simply can't stop acting, even when he's at home.
Essendine's huge ego is inflated by a circle of admirers, enablers and women of easy virtue.
Mark Guirguis' art deco set and Amie Eoff's elegant costumes keep this 1942 comedy in the appropriate era and style, though one might be surprised at how risqué the script is, given the period.
It opens with Essendine trying to dodge a woman he entertained the previous night. This is, we learn, something of a bad habit for him. Still, he can't help but dramatically profess his tragic love to the enamored girl (played by Kelsey Hopkins) before sending her away.
When the wife of a close friend (actress Sarah Hoch) tries to seduce him, threatening all of his friendships, he succumbs more to the terrible excitement of the moment than to the prospect of sex.
Propping him up as he stumbles through life intoxicated on his own importance is his former wife Liz (Claire Hayner), his good friend and confidant, and his no-nonsense secretary (Irene Crist).
In addition to Dye, actor Standrew Parker plays one of the funniest -- and creepiest -- characters you'll see all season
Other cast members include Brent Davis, Jeanna Juleson, Dave Landis, Jo Lynne Palmer and Joshua Quinn.
Under director Robert Hetherington "Present Laughter," delivers big on American-style zaniness.
Performances continue at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 13 at Circuit Playhouse, 51 S. Cooper. All opening weekend tickets are $20. Call (901) 726-4656.