NEW YORK (AP) — At a press event celebrating his return to Broadway, Kevin Kline wanted to be crystal clear on one topic: He's not having a midlife crisis. He's PLAYING someone who's having a midlife crisis.
"I'm way past my midlife crisis. I'm in my third," the actor joked.
Kline is starring in "Present Laughter," Noel Coward's 1939 farce about an egomaniacal matinee idol in the midst of personal turmoil. It's all about dressing gowns, love affairs and witty repartee, but Kline says it's really hard work.
"One of my friends said, 'Noel Coward? That'll be a breeze for you.' But I've never done it before. It's not as easy as it looks," he said. "It's supposed to look easy but, in fact, it's threading a needle."
Kline, 69, plays Garry Essendine, an aging star who can't answer the door without first checking his hair in a mirror. The character is planning a trip to Africa but is interrupted by a love-struck ingenue, a producer, his estranged wife and crazed young playwright. The title comes from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" — "Present youth hath present laughter."
Described by the playwright himself as "a series of semi-autobiographical pyrotechnics," the play has now been revived five times on Broadway and many times in London, starring Ian McKellen, Albert Finney, Frank Langella, Victor Garber and Coward himself.
"It had always been on my list of parts because I saw it once and thought, 'What a funny play and what a great part,'" said Kline. "Someone who takes himself terribly seriously — those are funny characters."
Kline, an Oscar- and two-time Tony Award-winner, is being joined onstage at the St. James Theatre by Tony- and Emmy-nominee Kate Burton, Tony nominee Kristine Nielsen and, in her Broadway debut, Cobie Smulders.
The play marks the first time Smulders has worked with Kline but she said she's adored him in films like "In & Out" and "A Fish Called Wanda." She called him a dynamic and deeply interesting force onstage.
"I find him to be so fluid," said Smulders, who was a cast member on "How I Met Your Mother." ''I don't know if it's his physicality or just way that he is, he's so quick to change and move and switch."
Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who earned a Tony nomination directing "Hand to God," said the Coward play is timely despite being 78 years old. He said it's about how celebrity and success can change you. Getting Klein onboard was icing on the cake.
"I have asked him to do very little. He brings so many options and tools to the table that it has been a wonderful exploration. He can make the low-brow seem high-brow and the high-brow seem low-brow, but he also has a sensitivity in his sad-clown way that helps add depth to this play."
Kline has played an aging ham before — particularly in 1991's "Soapdish" — but said he relishes the chance to parody his art in a high-energy show onstage. "It's not falling off a log," he said. "I hope it'll look like it'll be falling off a log."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits