Theater Jones Review: NOISES OFF

The Farce Side

Theatre Arlington pulls off an impressive feat with Michael Frayn’s masterful Noises Off

by Mark Lowry

Live theater is an interesting animal. Not only could you get two very different shows of the same piece from different companies, directors and/or actors, but you could find divergent experiences from two performances of one show with the exact same folks involved.

Michael Frayn’s brilliant 1982 Noises Off hilariously satirizes this, as a troupe of Brits perform a stinkeroo of a door-slamming sex farce called Nothing On. Noises Off is performed so often that it’s not spoiling anything to outline the three acts: The first act catches the shenanigans at a dress rehearsal for Nothing On, where we learn about the relationships and characters (meaning the actors playing the characters of Nothing On); the second act is back stage after the run has started; and the third act is after the show has been touring in England for a bit. It’s the same actors and tech people, but the downard spiral is fierce as the offstage drama—love, sexual trysts and jealousy, the same things that fuel every sex farce—overtakes what’s onstage.

So much for keeping the drama on the stage.

Going back to the idea of different productions at various theaters, this is one of the those shows that’s so popular with audiences that you can expect to see it done somewhere at least once in a year, especially with the sprawl in our Metropolitan area and the plethora of community theaters from Azle to Waxahachie.

Programming to please audiences makes sense, but Noises Off is also a serious artistic and technical challenge. I’ve seen professional productions of it that disappointed because of barely imperfect casting, unwieldy sets and slightly off timing. Those would mar any show, of course, but with a farce that depends on sushi chef-like precision in the physical timing, it can be detrimental.

Therefore, Andy Baldwin can take a glorious bow for his production at Theatre Arlington. It puts every other local production from the past decade or so to shame.

The casting’s the thing. Admittedly, on paper, the choices here might have raised an eyebrow. But almost nothing delights more in the theater than having expectations trounced, and Theatre Arlington has done it.

Ben Phillips’ smart-ass but still wry director Lloyd is not the dashing cad you often see in the role, but his is the funniest performance here, and that’s saying a lot with this ace cast.

Another standout is Michael James as the bottle-tipping Shakespearean actor Selsdon, a character too often played like a dementia-ridden drunk they pulled in off the street. There are elements of that in James’ portrayal, but in this case, you can tell that Selsdon was once a great actor (or at least in his mind), in the vein of the actor character in The Fantasticks.

Brooke (Mikaela Krantz), the woman whom Garry (Shane Beeson) brings to the country estate is often curvy and sassy, but the rail-thin Krantz (who just played a 15-year-old boy at Circle Theatre) uses her angular body as a comic device and turns Brooke into a sexy spaz. Teaming with Beeson’s marvelously vapid but charming lead actor, these two are comic gold.

The funny keeps on coming with Brad Stephens’ method actor Frederick, Sherry Hopkins has his fling Belinda, and Krista Scott as the forgetful maid, Dotty, whose tray of sardines becomes one of the play’s funniest gags. Throw in a pissy stage manager, Poppy (Robin Daniel), and a tech guy, Tim (Eric Dobbins), who will do anything so that the show goes on, and you have farcical bliss.

Jack Hardaway’s set is perfect for the script’s demands and the actors’ timing (and so is the size of Theatre Arlington’s proscenium stage), and Meredith Hinton’s costumes work splendidly.

Being the animal that theater is, it would be some feat if this cast captures this show as spot-on as they did on opening night. Then again, unlike Nothing On, most productions get stronger as the run continues. Get tickets now for the final weekend, because it’s a good guess that this one will sell out. Deservedly so.

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