Coward revival reigns among N.Y. stage comedies

It says something about the current state of comic drama that Broadway's most popular comedy at the moment is ''Present Laughter,'' a 40-year-old satirical farce by Noel Coward. This very spry period piece reigns among the handful of comedies scattered across the Broadway and Off Broadway scene. The theater could always use more good escapist fare than it gets. But today's stock seems exceptionally meager.

Garry Essendine, the preening matinee-idol hero of ''Present Laughter,'' was by no means the finest of Sir Noel's creative caricatures. Nor is the play itself rated as top-drawer Coward. Yet its laughter remains present because of the solid comic stagecraft and construction that went into its making. Happily the revival, starring and robustly directed by George C. Scott, has extended its run at the Circle in the Square.

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