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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A farce of the first order penned by the hugely diverse playwright/novelist Michael Frayn, Noises Off has been sending audiences into hysterics for more than 25 years now. Between London engagements, two Broadway productions and more regional theater offerings than anybody could tally, we're talking a lot of joyful Noises. Is Noises Off seamless? Not by a long stretch. The play's overkill third act has a tendency to stop the play as dead in the water as, well, one of Dotty Otley's elusive sardines. Happily, director Art Manke's cast at South Coast Repertory (SCR) never lets this happen. The pace may slow; the yuks, never.
Witness the utter seen-it-all weariness of Kandis Chappell who drudges her way on stage enacting Cockney char Mrs. Clackett in the play-within-a-play Nothing On while the scenery is all but collapsing around her ears. Mrs. Clackett shrugs off every last goof and leaves it to the rest of the lunatics to sort things out. That opening of act 3, featuring a deadpanning Chappell, a flying phone and a whole bunch of messy sardines, are things of beauty.
The first two acts aren't so shabby either. We've witnessed a third rate British theatrical company utterly self destruct as they attempt to mount and tour a sex farce titled Nothing On. Lines aren't learned. Doors don't always open and the director's a wolf. Bloody noses, boozy bit players and backstage affairs threaten to derail the entire affair.
Younger leading man Garry Lejeune (played by Bill Brochtrup) is having it on with faded star Dotty (Chappell) who, in addition to playing the char, has sunk money into the play. The underwear clad blonde Brooke Ashton (Jennifer Lyon) knows her lines and a whole bunch of hammy gestures to boot. Plus she's involved with the show's predatory director, Lloyd (Kaleo Griffith) who's also dallying with put upon stage manner Poppy Norton-Taylor (Winslow Corbett). Belinda Blair (Nancy Bell) knows everybody's secrets _ well nearly all _ and fancies herself the company's peacekeeper. Meek actor Fred Fellowes (Timothy Landsfield) tries to smooth ruffled feathers, but only makes things worse, and positively everybody tries to keep Selsdon Mowbray away from the sauce.
Timing and speed are every bit the name of the game in Act 2 when the company — now in full implosion mode— are racing through Nothing On while trying to sabotage each other on stage and off. It's here where doors are slammed, dresses are doffed, people misinterpret what they see and injuries are inevitable, all while barely a word is spoken. The audience watches the proceedings from backstage where a sign on John Iacovelli's functional baronial set reads "Queit (sic) Please." How fitting.
Apart from the Dotty moments, Noises Off is frequently Brooke's to steal, and Lyon doesn't disappoint. Inner focused more than ditzy, Lyon's Brooke makes sparkling use of her prances, dips and shivers. This is a character who also brings matters to a halt whenever she loses a contact lens which is also good for plenty of laughs.
Brochtrup's Garry may not be the bundle of jealous rage that Frayn envisioned, but the actor sputters and chokes winningly. Ullett is good naturedly clueless as Selsdon the sot and Brian Hostenske keeps the stiffest of upper lips and a smile to withstand nuclear fallout as assistant stage manager Tim Allgood.
Credit director Manke and a very fine cast for making a deceptively easy looking play look like the romp it should be. Even shows as lousy as Nothing On must go on. SCR's "Off"-ers bring it off without a hitch.
Editor's Note: Here are links to a few of the many Noises Off productions that, as Evan correctly stated, " have been sending audiences into hysterics" Curtainup has reviewed:
Noises Off (London - 2000; New York 2001)