Pacific Resident Theatre Presents
Noel Coward’s


They’re having a party at Pacific Resident Theatre, and it’s a lot of fun. It celebrates the centennial of the birth of Noel Coward, the “Master” to his many fans and friends. The special gifts PRT is giving the Master are three of his short plays from his Tonight at 8:30 nine-play cycle, and watching them one can imagine Coward looking down and smiling his deliciously superior smile.

The “party” in question begins as the audience enters the theatre, viewers mingling with the costumed actors on stage, around a grand piano. The tinkling ivories, brought to buoyant, and nuance perfect, life by Brent Schindele, are very Cowardesque, and the ambience is very 1930s. Frequently various cast members call for attention and perform one of the Master’s classic tunes, from “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” to “If Love Were All,” with a specially affecting “Mad About The Boy” torched with sultry edge by Diane Hurley, and almost as sultrily by William Lithgow to one of the male cast members. But soon the champagne glasses are put away, the piano glides merrily behind the set, and the three “Tonight at 8:30” playlets begin. Whenever a company decides to produce only a portion of the whole, it’s always interesting which ones they pick. This time around, they are “We Were Dancing,” “The Astonished Heart” and “Ways and Means.” They are pretty good choices for this richly endowed company. The best known is “The Astonished Heart,” which was filmed under the same name, with Coward himself playing psychiatrist Christian Faber, with his usual laid-back soignee attitude. It was a successful film, but not the smash it could have been. Here it has the advantage of having Francois Giroday as Faber. Giroday gives the role of the philandering doctor more of an edge than Coward did, full of interesting detail and with an added emotional intensity that brings the character, and the play the depth is needs. Giroday’s passionate Faber is matched beautifully by Alley Mills as his complaisant but long suffering wife, who is aware of Faber’s infidelity, but bitterly accepts it. They’re a marvelous pair together. Molly Schaffer is the object of Faber’s attention, callous and eventually unresponsive, and her final scene, walking firmly out of the doctor’s life, is touching. The opening play is pure vintage Coward, a truffle of a momentary romantic encounter, as funny and jaded as Coward ever got. “We Were Dancing” tells the tale of Louise Charteris (Joanna Daniels), who dances onstage with Karl Sandys (Michael Crider), both enraptured beyond control by love at first sight. When her husband Hubert (Andrew Parks) arrives with her coat and a suggestion they go home, the fun begins. The dialogue is as brittle and poetic as the best of early Coward, and the performances are impeccable in mood and tone, and one can sense faint but telling memories of Coward and Gertrude Lawrence as Louise and Karl. The third and final play of the evening is all comedy, as thin and airy as it can be, and played with utter abandon by its cast. Stella and Toby Cartwright (Sara Newman, Matt Letscher) must find “Way and Means” to absolve themselves from their financial predicament. They are houseguests, but Toby has blown all their cash gambling, and they have no way to afford transportation to a new location, nor to repay debts, not even to tip the servants, which would ruin their reputation. Everything goes against them, until chauffeur Stevens (Greg Vignolle), in a mask, attempts to rob them. They evolve a delicious plan for the deliverance of all three. Stevens will instead run down the hall, rob the Princess Elena Krassiloff (Joanna Daniels), split the loot with the Cartwrights and… Well, Coward makes it all work, and so does this cast, feather-light and bubbling every moment. Pacific Resident Theatre is noted for their matchless productions, and this bouquet to Noel Coward is among their most cheerful and delectable. The evening’s saddest note is pianist-vocalist Brent Schindele’s nicely shaded curtain-closer, the bittersweet “The Party’s Over.” We’re so sorry it is.”

Tonight at 8:30,” Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends July 2. $20-$22. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

703 Venice Blvd. , Venice CA 90291 Box Office 310 822 8392

Pacific Resident Theater