As the entertainment world emerges from an unusual era, the Merlin Players are preparing a show that puts ridicule in its place on stage.
The Merlin Players production of Present Laughter, a comedy by British playwright Nel Coward, will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Performances continue at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, at 2 p.m. on Sunday and at 7:30 p.m. on August 5, 6 and 7.
Present Laughter, as lead actor Micheal Lambert has described it, follows the life and times of Garry Essendine and his relationship with his ex-wife, secretary, manager and producer, as well as with his friends. Set in Garrys’ studio in 1950s London, things get tough as Garry battles a midlife crisis while tangling in the personal conflicts of his peers.
The 11 actors in the production represent not only Faribault but Owatonna, Northfield, Webster and St. Paul. The cast includes Lambert, Kim Schaufenbuel, Susan Dunhaupt, Patrick Braucher, Larry Tolle, Stephanie Weiss, Dean Lamp, Faith Jameson, Sam Temple, Marcia Morris-Beck and Tania Legvold.
Lambert, who plays Garry Essendine, grew up in Faribault and has family in the area. While now living in Saint-Paul, he continues to regard Faribault as his theater. He is a founding member of the Merlin Players and appeared in the Faribault Community Theater’s first production, Carousel, in 1987 with fellow Present Laughter actress Marcia Morris-Beck.
It’s been two weird years, so it’s been great to be back on stage with so many of my friends, Lambert said.
Lambert describes his character as a self-centered actor who is convinced the world revolves around him and gets angry when it turns out to be wrong.
Owatonna’s actor Kim Schaufenbuel plays Liz, Garry’s wife and partner.
Liz keeps everyone online, especially Garry, Schaufenbuel said. She is very upbeat, sassy and keen to get a good result in whatever happens.
Lambert has a deep admiration for Present Laughter playwright Nel Coward, to whom he credits his ability to create witty dialogue, characters and staging. The play, Lambert said, is as if Downton Abbey meets Knots Landing and Dynasty.
Schaufenbuel said that what she finds interesting about the series is how the five characters who are business partners engage with each other despite the ongoing arguments that continue throughout the series.
Director Julianna Skluzacek said she saw Present Laughter during the pandemic on a live streaming platform with actor Kevin Kline portraying Garry Essendine in a winning performance by Tony.
the Merlin Players were supposed to make a musical for its summer production, but Skluzacek said she was nervous about including vocals given the risk of the spread of COVID-19. She noted that all 11 cast members are fully immunized.
Everyone is so excited to get back on stage, Skluzacek said. Very good actors have taken on small roles, which is just delicious. Reading the table, we couldn’t stop smiling. It has been a long time for many people.
Journalist Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.
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