note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi
Dotty Otley / “Mrs. Clackett” ... Sarah deLima
Lloyd Douglas ... Jeremiah Kissel
Garry Lejeune / “Roger Tramplemain” ... Neil A. Casey
Brooke Ashton / “Vicki” ... Kristen Sergeant
Poppy Norton-Taylor ... Jessica Healy
Frederick Fellowes / “Philip Brent”, “Sheikh” ... Barlow Adamson
Belinda Blair / “Flavia Brent” ... Maryann Zschau
Tim Allgood ... David Krinitt
Selsdon Mowbray / “Burgler” ... Bob Jolly
NOISES OFF, Michael Frayn’s clever, clever farce, chronicles the onstage/offstage antics of an English theatrical company as they tour the provinces with a sex farce entitled NOTHING ON (written by one “Robin Housemonger”). Act I is the harassed final run-through just before Opening Night; Act II --- one month later --- takes place backstage (with the set in reverse), where the troupe’s romantic entanglements have begun to outdo those of their onstage characters; Act III --- two months after Act II --- is NOTHING ON seen from the audience’s point of view again, with the production on its last legs, the script in tatters, and the frazzled/indifferent actors just trying to get through another damning performance.
I have nothing but admiration for Mr. Frayn’s achievement --- in particular, Act I, where he captures the frayed nerves, the “darlings”, the gossip, the infatuations, and the ego clashes of show folk; and I chuckled in constant recognition. But Act Two turns mechanical with its never-ending pratfalls (the witty dialogue all but vanishes), and Act III is simply a rehash of all that has gone before it. Still, I cannot begrudge a playwright whose goal is to simply make people laugh and I was always a sucker for the Carol Burnett-Harvey Korman “Funt and Mundane” disaster sketches, so if you’ve never seen NOISES OFF or wish to see it again, I'm pleased to report that the Lyric Stage is having an enjoyable go at it --- not since its acclaimed production of LEND ME A TENOR, two years ago, have I witnessed its auditorium so awash with laughter; it couldn't end its season on a more riotous note.
Mr. Frayn is very much the Star of his own play; that is, he has written a farce of such clockwork complexity that his director, actors and set designer cannot depart from his blueprint --- happily, Spiro Veloudos is an expert plate spinner in his own right and has devised a crazy, split-second ballet that sends bodies hurtling through Robert M. Russo’s obstacle-set as often as those endless plates of sardines. In a year already rich in Boston comedy, the Lyric’s ensemble is one of the funniest; if I must call back a few players for extra curtain calls --- hell, I’ll call them all back! --- I would applaud just a hair louder for the lush Kristen Sergeant as the talentless blonde sleeping with her two-timing director (watch her go politely bonkers in Act Three) and, especially, for Jeremiah Kissel as said director. I had not seen Mr. Kissel on a stage for over a year and if a gun must be held to his head to keep him there, so be it. Here, he has just the right tired, grounded authority to mark him as the leader of the troupe and is blessed with a presence that places him firmly at center stage even when issuing God-like commentary from the back of the house. Mr. Kissel’s current clowning kept him from contributing to the Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s benefit performance but I look forward to his future contributions, there --- they are bound to be grand. And, Mr. Kissel --- don’t stay away so long, again, damn it.