Noises Off Turns On the Laughs
The classic hit proves that theater life is more than just doors and sardines.
Farce is a science, a series of actions and reactions. People slam and swing open doors, they race up and down stairs, they misplace their clothing. If farce is a science, Noises Off deserves a Nobel Prize for physics. Michael Frayn's uproarious script sets up the fundamentals of comedy with duplication, yet each time an activity is repeated, it's moved slightly askew till it topples over into the audience and results in boundless hilarity. And in this particular production, A Noise Within tackles the comedy with aplomb.
In Noises Off, a lousy British acting company rehearses an equally dreadful sex comedy called Nothing On. They have less than one day till opening, yet the cast has not learned their lines or how to handle props, or how to keep from stumbling over each other. The director, Lloyd (Geoff Elliott), is trapped on this sinking ship and just wants to finish an entire run-through before the audience arrives the next evening.
By having the first act of Nothing On performed three times — Act 1 is during the dress rehearsal, Act 2 takes place backstage at a matinee a month later, and Act 3 is several months later — Frayn illustrates these unprofessional actors deteriorating before the audience's eyes. The audience knows what should happen but witnesses how the actors have veered off course due to inadequacy, romantic entanglements, and ego.
Directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott (who also plays the director character, Lloyd) pull together a talented cast. Timing is everything in comedy and Rodriguez-Elliott and Elliott keep the action speeding along. Act 3 does run out of steam at times, but the madness onstage energizes the audience. For a play reliant on props — a travel bag, a box of files, several plates of sardines, and clothing around ankles — the directors proficiently utilize the items to punctuate the laughs.
The ensemble players are the pistons in this well-oiled machine, and though their characters refuse to work together, the team excels by anticipating their castmates' pratfalls, foul-ups, and explosions. Kasey Mahaffy plays one of the players Garry like a used-car salesman, all bluster but without a thought in his head. Emily Kosloski is daffy as the blond bombshell who keeps losing her contact lenses during her scenes and appears oblivious to those around her. Deborah Strang is delightfully loopy as the established actress Dotty Otley, who has invested in her comeback but lacks the aptitude to have ever been allowed onstage. Jeremy Rabb can generate laughs just throwing his nose up in the air to prevent a further nosebleed.
As the busybody Belinda, Jill Hill is like a joyous termite burrowing into everyone else's business. As the put-upon stage management, Rafael Goldstein and Erika Soto appear appropriately beaten down and drained of all lifeblood from wrangling this cast of emotional vampires. As the old-timer drunkard who keeps getting misplaced, Apollo Dukakis quietly insinuates himself into the action, always setting his sights on his next drink and waiting in the wings for a "spot of rehearsal." Elliott is suitably exasperated as the director incapable of controlling his disobedient cast. His performance builds to an eruption as Lloyd realizes his reputation is in the slippery hands of incompetents.
Angela Balogh Calin's costumes correctly display a cheapness and ineptitude that would be found in low-budget community theater. Fred Kinney's set captures the charm of a British suburban home and, in Act 2, is rotated to glimpse the chaos of backstage life during a performance. Sydney Russell and Erin Walley make sure the props look properly battered.
Though focusing on a haphazard cast of bunglers, Noises Off is a love letter to the stage and those who attempt to make a living from it. Frayn springs a hysterical mousetrap, and the cast at A Noise Within dances through the machinations expertly.