"The Funniest Farce Ever Written!"
“Noises Off,” the achingly funny Rubik’s Cube of a play that’s performing now at Long Beach Playhouse through October 9th, is Michael Frayn’s 1982 meticulously plotted flapdoodle that traces a manic menagerie of itinerant actors presenting an English parody play called “Nothing On.” Brimming with slapstick humor — and flying sardines — “Noises Off” is like a hall of mirrors where artifice and reality are almost indistinguishable.
In a cycle of events that must seem to the audience to spiral out of control, the play within a play soon regresses from a stop-start dress rehearsal the night before opening, to a bumbling backstage performance about a month later, then climaxes in all-out mutiny when the tour is on its very last legs. At that point the plot is abandoned entirely as they attempt to ad-lib their way toward some sort of end.
On stage, it’s a hurly-burly of slammed and jammed doors, missed cues, forgotten lines, recalcitrant props and dropped "trou" – all at breakneck speed. Backstage, it’s a chaotic maelstrom of love triangles and trampled egos, and there’s no one without an axe to grind — or swing. Nobody’s dignity survives.
Frequently called “the funniest farce ever written,” the amazing cast here seems to defy the laws of physics with their mechanical precision, their split-second timing, and their slavish devotion to the perfection of chaos.
The sheer logistics of this whole production - a farcical ballet on steroids you might say - suggests that Frayn (who went on to pen the sharply intellectual “Copenhagen”) must have a computer-like brain. And performing the show must be the source of anxiety for every director who undertakes it. Yet somehow they get through it all without a glitch — except, of course, for the many hundreds of purposeful glitches that propel it.
The cast within a cast is led by the riotous Andrea Stradling (“A Christmas Story”) as Dotty Otley, a has-been actress trying to revive her career with “Nothing On.” Dotty's having an affair with John Vann’s (“La Cage Aux Folles”) Garry LeJeune, who can only speak in full sentences when someone is feeding him the lines; Mr. Vann gives off a lot of Austin Powers vibes and has a keen sense of comedic outrage, jealousy and panic.
Lewis Leighton plays drunken, forgetful Selsdon Mowbray — the comic relief, oddly enough — with a gentle cluelessness that somehow manages to make Selsdon’s scenery chewing endearing, even admirable. Selsdon is pathologically apologetic and childlike, but as the Burglar, he's a straight-out baggy pants musical hall professional.
Brooke Ashton (Amara Phelps; “Othello”), a dippy, scantily-clad ingénue with a dangerous set of teeth, practices her mantra and quite a bit of sexual manipulation on Lloyd Dallas (Eric Schiffer; “The Producers”), “Nothing On's” ambitious director. Mr. Schiffer plays director Lloyd like a beleaguered psychiatrist, cajoling and commanding his actors through their paces with a wry, sarcastic edge, and is in a secret love triangle with Poppy and Brooke.
All of this occurs under the watchful eye of masterfully brittle busy body Belinda Blair (Adanna Kenlow; “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark”), molding her face into an endless supply of spot-on reactions and keeping close tabs on Fredrick Fellowes (Travis Wade; “Romeo & Juliet”), a muttonhead in constant need of "motivation." (Mr. Wade’s Freddy may take the prize for physical comedy). He manages to infuse nose-bleeding Frederick with a cartoonishly crushing amount of heart, and that with only a few key expressions.
The ensemble is rounded out by emotional and starry-eyed Asst. Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Lyndsay Palmer; “Little Women”), who’s carrying Lloyd’s child, and doofy Jack-of-all-trades, Tim Allgood (PJ Cimacio; “1940’s Radio Hour”) who hasn’t had a break in days. All dynamic, energetic and quite flexible. In fact this cast appears to be having as much fun as the audience.
But the actual director, Gregory Cohen (“Into The Woods,” “Guys and Dolls”), keeps the performances fairly low-key at first, gradually increasing the pace, the humor and the craziness. And as a result, when things become explosive, it practically leaves powder burns on our faces. When the sheer pandemonium kicks into high gear in the second half, almost like a knockabout ballet, the big set has already been turned around, and the actors seem to be doing the impossible every few seconds. That whirlwind act alone is worth the price of admission.
Set Designer Larry Mura has done an exceptional job creating the physical world of “Nothing On/Noises Off.” Sound Designer is Brian G. Robrecht; Lighting Designer is Jesse Bosworth; Costume Designer is Christina Bayer; Prop Designer is Allison Mamann; Stage Manager is Alex Shewchuk, assisted by Maria Valdez and Dayana Navarrete-Escobar.
“Noises Off,” by Michael Frayn, Directed by Gregory Cohen, is now performing on the Mainstage at Long Beach Playhouse through October 9th. 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Parking is available back of theater. Performance times: Fridays/Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are available at https://lbplayhouse.org/show/noises-off/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report