Tag Archives: Theatre Arlington

COMPANY Review – Star-Telegram

Review: Jubilee’s ‘Company’ a fine departure for Fort Worth theater

By Punch Shaw
Special to the Star-Telegram

If you want to judge a show by the company it keeps, this Company has a good one.

A talented and nicely balanced cast carry the day in Jubilee Theatre’s production of this 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical, which opened at the downtown venue last weekend.

The focus of this romantic comedy, which mitigates its humor with biting insight, is Bobby (Lloyd Harvey) — a single ladies’ man with a wide circle of married friends. As he grapples with the pros and cons of matrimony, we look at the relationships of those around him through his eyes. And, because this is Sondheim instead of some lesser musical composer, we are given no easy answers. The more Bobby looks at the marriages around him, the more confused and conflicted he becomes about commitment.

Harvey has the look and feel of his character down well in this production, directed by Harry Parker, TCU theater department chair. His vocals are not dazzling, but he handles Sondheim’s tricky musical demands well enough.

But it is difficult for any one singer to stand out in a production with so many strong voices. The songs are spread out across the large cast, but we hear just enough to appreciate what a versatile singer Alison Hodgson (as the flighty flight attendant April) is, and how rich and resonant a voice Marcus M. Mauldin (Larry) has. We also hear too little of the smooth vocals delivered by Scott Sutton (Peter) and Ben Phillips (Harry).

The acting is quite good also. Harvey carries the show with no evidence of strain. Hodgson plays the dumb blonde (a stock character that looks easy to play, but is not) beautifully. And Meg Shideler (Amy) and Whitney Coulter (Marta) enlarge their parts with highly caffeinated performances.

And the music provided by an unseen trio, led by musical director Michael Plantz, is ably rendered.

So there is no question that this is a polished interpretation of this musical. But a larger issue is whether this show is right for this house.

Since its inception, Jubilee has been proud of serving the black community in particular with productions by black authors, featuring predominantly black casts. Presenting a mainstream musical such as this one, with a cast including about equal numbers of black and white performers, is a bit of a departure. It may raise the question of whether a show that is so “white,” Manhattan-centric and 1970s-ish in its origins is a good choice, given what the audience has come to expect from Jubilee.

But the reality is that this show is not as much of a shift for the theater as it may seem. Jubilee has always been exceptionally open on issues of race. Nearly all of its productions have involved artists of various ethnic backgrounds, even when we have seen an all-black cast onstage.

So there is no reason Jubilee should not be doing a show like this. I would like to think it serves the theater’s core audience and mission as well as anything else it has presented.

The regular patrons of his troupe may or may not embrace Company (probably more because it might seem dated, rather than anything to do with race). But Jubilee artistic director Tre Garrett deserves kudos for taking a chance on this type of show. It reminds us that we are all better off when we are more open-minded about the company we keep.

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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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Dallas Observer Review: NOISES OFF

NOISES OFF

The Sound You Hear is Laughter

by Elaine Liner

Call a play a farce and it damn well better be funny. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is far and away the farciest of all modern farces. Full of slamming doors, sexy girls, mistaken identities and stray plates of sardines, Noises Off has been setting the standard for feather-light theatrical comedy for three decades now. …

Laughs, big ones, belly-crunching, thigh-slapping, gasp-for-oxygen laughs, are what you want from a farce. You’ll get the giggles, guaranteed, at Theatre Arlington’s whizbang Noises Off, directed by Andy Baldwin, star of many of Circle Theatre’s broad comedies over the past few seasons.

Frayn’s brilliant play is a paean to stage props and crack comic timing. With characters running up and down stairs, bobbing out of doors and windows like cuckoos out of clocks and intentionally tumbling over couches, tables and their own dropped trousers, any slip-ups could be dangerous. The play then shows what happens when all goes wrong.

The first act of Noises Off finds a ninth-rate company of players in the final moments of a prolonged dress rehearsal for a typical British sex comedy called Nothing On. Their director (played by the delightfully wry and rumpled Ben Phillips) is at the end of his tether. If he can put Nothing On on, he’s off to direct Richard III. But first he has to get over the hump of a bad play and the bad actors in it.

Doors and sardines: Mikaela Krantz, Shane Beeson, Brad Stephens and Sherry Hopkins star in Theatre Arlington's NOISES OFF through January 29 at Theatre Arlington. Call 817-275-7661.

In the second act, we see what happens backstage as the six performers in Nothing On try to act comedy out front while keeping an ongoing feud between cast members from erupting into violence behind the curtain. (Jack Hardaway’s two-story scenery at Theatre Arlington turns its back on the audience for this part.) For the third short act, the Nothing On bunch, turned around to face us again, is winding up their long road tour, with cues blown, relationships soured and the play-within-the-play reduced to a shambles.

It has to move at a breathless pace to achieve maximum farce-ity, and Baldwin keeps his cast jumping like the stage is on fire. Shane Beeson makes some hilariously swift moves as the dim-bulb male ingénue, Gary Lejeune, who speaks in incomplete sentences and, like, well … you know. Like that. Playing the dim bim opposite him is Mikaela Krantz, built like a beautiful, pale stick insect and, costumed in tiny triangles of green lingerie, the funniest undressed actress of the year so far.

All the others — Krista Scott as the actress playing the sardine-juggling maid, Sherry Hopkins as the gossipy leading lady, Brad Stephens as a method actor given to nosebleeds under stress, Michael James as the dipsomaniacal old Shakespearean, Robin Daniel as the crazed stage manager and Eric Dobbins as the sleep-deprived stagehand — are the top of the tip of comedy goodness. (Their mispronunciation of the English town “Basingstoke” is a tiny but fixable flaw. It should take the long “A.”)

Other productions of Noises Off around here have suffered from size problems. Too often they were spread across a big stage (like the one at WaterTower Theatre), which ruins the tight timing needed for comedy choreography. Theatre Arlington’s small-ish space fits the play to a farthing, putting the audience close enough to catch all the subtle tosses of props and angry looks in the pantomime-heavy second act, but far enough away to take in the whole picture.

Frayn, hailed as the master of English farce after Noises Off premiered in 1982, would go on to write more brilliant plays; one about physicists, Copenhagen, and then the drama Democracy, about German chancellor Willy Brandt. But it’s this comedy that’s performed most often. Hardly a season goes by without a production of it in a Dallas or Fort Worth theater, and it’s a rare treat to see it done as well as they’re doing it in Arlington.

Noises Off is so efficient and smart, commenting on the silliness of British sex-coms but showing how hard it is to do one. It’s all so complicated, says Noises Off character Gary Lejeune: “We’ve got bags. We’ve got boxes. Plus doors. Plus words.”

Giving Frayn his due, let’s move words to the top of that list.

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Column Review: NOISES OFF

Noises Off is a glorious opportunity to watch seven slamming doors, one breaking window, 10 trips up and down stairs and 17 false entrances, while listening to 73 flubbed lines, 46 miscues, one dramatic highlight, 22 double entendres, 6 regular entendres and a million laughs all while trying to find a missing plate of sardines.”

Okay, I stole that quote from another program but it beautifully spells out the show. Noises Off has been called the funniest farce ever written. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but not much of one. The show has also been done by virtually every professional and amateur theater company in the English speaking world. And it has been made into a movie. All of this might be both good and bad for this show.

Before the show I heard various audience members saying things like, “How many times have you seen it?” And after the show I heard comments like, “They changed a lot of lines from the way we did it.” Instead of just enjoying it, they were comparing it to other productions. Considering that and “the funniest farce” put a whale of a burden on the director and actors. I’m going to review only this performance.

Noises Off is non-stop action. Its pacing and frenetic blocking leaves the actors with little time to breathe! A problem here is that, while learning all the intricacies, it’s easy to forget to develop a character.

For the most part the Theatre Arlington cast establishes solid beginnings for their characters.

Especially strong are: Krista Scott (Dotty), who makes us believe her “dotty” character is real. Not an easy task. Mikaela Krantz (Brooke) who rides her character hilariously throughout. Her solo seduction in Act 3 is worth the price of the ticket! Brad Stephens (Frederick) who continually says, “I see that,” when we all know he doesn’t. And how often do you laugh at someone with a nose bleed? Eric Dobbins (Tim) who tugs at our sympathy as he is being run ragged by the actors.

Sherry Hopkins (Belinda) has the double duty of being funny (her dazzling smile accomplishes that) and carrying what little serious stuff that does happen. Somehow she pulls it off. I think, as the show matures and the actors get more comfortable with their scenes, the pacing and the character development will settle in. Hopefully, this will be especially true for Michael James (Selsdon). In the opening night performance he latches on to a stereotype drunk and plays that one level throughout. His credits in the program lead one to believe he’s capable of much better work.

One cannot see Noises Off without mentioning the set. In 1970, Author Michael Frayn was watching one of his plays backstage and realized that it was much funnier back there. In 1980, Noises Off was the result.

Happily, Theatre Arlington has a revolve on its stage so it’s relatively simple to turn the set around. I especially like the fact that they waited until Act 2 began to turn it around. Jack Hardaway’s set is simple and direct. At least it gives that impression. All doors and stairs, facilitating the action without distracting from it. I was a little concerned that the stairs didn’t have an outside railing, knowing that Gary would have to tumble down those steps in Act 3. Shane Beeson took the fall impressively, to the delighted applause of the audience.

Meredith Hinton’s costumes truly represent the characters; the stuffy are stuffy, the casual are casual and no one will forget (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) Brooke’s lingerie. And Shelbie Mac’s bottles and sardines are right where they ought to be – or are they?

Director Andy Baldwin has done a workman-like job of directing traffic, and has even thrown in a couple of good bits of his own. Again, as with the actors, so much attention is paid to crazy blocking, everything else slides a bit. I believe, the hands of this able cast, the show will tighten and grow as it runs. For sure, as it stands right now, it is a delightful way to spend an evening or afternoon at the theater.

Reviewed by Grant James
Associate Theater Critic
John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

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Star-Telegram Review: NOISES OFF

Theatre Arlington’s Noises Off will leave you in stitches

By Punch Shaw
Special to the Star-Telegram

ARLINGTON – The emergency rooms of Arlington hospitals should add staff and stand by in the wake of the opening of the frenetic farce Noises Off at Theatre Arlington on Friday night.

They are likely to be inundated with patients complaining of sore ribs and maybe even split guts from laughing uproariously for more than two hours without time to even catch their breaths. And after a few more performances, the cast of this extremely physical comedy may need an entire wing of a medical facility all its own.

But a little collateral damage is acceptable in the theater when the show is this funny. Certainly, the lion’s share of the credit for that always has to go to British playwright Michael Frayn, who created this madness about a hopelessly dysfunctional theater troupe’s attempts to present a deeply flawed comic romp called Nothing On. This show is the quintessential British sex farce, and most productions of it keep the laughs coming.

Few presentations, however, realize the full potential of this hysterical material as well as this one. Director Andy Baldwin puts the pedal to the metal as soon as the curtain goes up, and he never lets off. He can do so because he has such a wonderful ensemble of players. They are every bit the unit they need to be for this brilliantly structured bit of nonsense.

It is almost unfair to single out any performer, but it would also be a travesty not to acknowledge the bitingly humorous performance by Ben Phillips as Lloyd, the director of the show’s play-within-a-play. His comic timing is even sharper than his character’s withering wit.

And it would a major oversight not to call your call your attention to the nuanced performance by Shane Beeson as Garry. His perfectly measured portrayal can easily get lost in the chaos of this show’s action, but his work in the third act is as strong as Phillips’ efforts in the first act.

The second act belongs to the cast as a whole. During that section, we move behind the scenes of Nothing On thanks to a fabulous set by Jack Hardway that spins on a turntable to change the audience’s perspective. All sorts of high jinks are played out as the actors silently try to kill one another without interrupting the show out front. Krista Scott, Brad Stephens, Eric Dobbins, Robin Daniel and Michael James turn in great performances in this act just as they do in the other two.

The only flaw in the show, though, is a major one. Sherry Hopkins as Belinda and Mikaela Krantz as Brooke both do excellent jobs with their lines. Hopkins is especially good with the acting-within-acting she has to do, and Krantz scores often with visual humor. But, unfortunately, they have been cast in each other’s roles. It is a tragic blunder in an otherwise perfectly plotted undertaking.

But there is so much else going on in this relentless comedy that it can survive even that obvious misstep. Many of its noises may be off (stage), but this production’s comedic chops are spot on.

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Behind Dressing Room Doors

Theatre Arlington raises the tabs on their production of Noises Off, written by Michael Frayn and directed by Andy Baldwin.  Cast is a sampling of veteran DFW performers including Krista Scott (Dotty), Ben Phillips (Lloyd), Shane Beeson (Garry), Mikaela Krantz (Brooke), Brad Stephens (Frederick), Sherry Hopkins (Belinda), Michael James (Selsdon), Eric Dobbins (Tim) and Robin Daniel (Poppy).

Mikaela Krantz, Shane Beeson, Brad Stephens and Sherry Hopkins

Called the funniest farce ever written, this play within a play provides a hysterical glimpse of what happens backstage while rehearsing a flop of a farce called “Nothing On.” An intriguing and side-splitting glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of theater.

Noises Off opens January 13 and runs through January 29, 2012 at Theatre Arlington.  Curtain rises at 7:30 PM on Thursdays, 8 PM Fridays & Satrudays and 2 PM on Sunday afternoons.  A reception catered by BlackFinn American Saloon will be held in the lobby following the opening night performance.  Tickets are $19 with discounts for students, seniors and groups of 10 or more.  Tickets for the Thursday, January 12, 2012 preview performance are only $5.  For more information or to buy tickets online, visit www.theatrearlington.org.

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