Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Noises Off"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Noises Off"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show of Bay Colony Productions season is "Noises Off" a 1982 play by Michael Frayn. The idea for it was born in 1970, when Frayn was in the wings watching a performance of "Chinamen", a farce that he had written for Lynn Redgrave. According to the playwright, "It was funnier from behind than in front" and he vowed to write a farce from behind. In theatrical stage directions, the term "noises off'' specifies sounds that are meant to be heard from offstage. Frayn plays on the concept of a play within a play, in this case a play entitled "Nothing On" in which a young girl runs around in her underwear, men drop their trousers, and many doors continually open and shut. Each of the three acts of "Noises Off" contains a performance of the first act of "Nothing On''. Act One is set at the dress rehearsal, the night before the opening with the cast still stumbling with entrances and exits, missed cues, miss-spoken lines, bothersome props, most notably several plates of sardines. Act Two is one month later at a Wednesday matinee performance. In this act, the play is seen from backstage, providing a view that reveals the deteriorating personal relationships among the cast that have led to offstage shenanigans and onstage bedlam. In Act Three, we see a performance near the end of the ten-week run when personal friction has continued to increase, everyone is bored and anxious to be done with the play. The performers attempt to cover up a series of mishaps but only compound the problems and draw attention to the bungling performance. Much of the comedy emerges from the subtle variations in each version as off-stage chaos affects on-stage performance. The slapstick in the latter two acts is hilarious and is where the strength of this script lies. Director Dori Bryan picks the best nine performers for each of these roles and infuses the farcical elements to leave the audience in stitches. This excellent show can be described in two words, frantic frenzy, as it progresses from a some what normal British drawing room comedy into a madcap full out farce. The magnificent two story turn able set is by Michael Duarte which is a converted 16th Century farm that has been turned into a modern dwelling for which renters are solicited in the script. (The constantly broken glass window pane is made out of candy glass which Michael created in his own kitchen.)

Dori is aided in her task by assistant director Steve Dooner who dialect coached the cast for their topnotch British accents. The colorful costumes are by Daniel Kozar while hard working stage manager Brendon Auld and his crew turn the massive set with ease during the two act intermission. (The audience loved watching this take place as the set was piece together.) Lighting and technical director is Michael Teixeira while Ed DiMarzio is the sound designer. The multitude of props are by Gail Gilman who has to find a great deal of sardines, newspapers, flowers as well as a cactus plant with huge thorns for the show. The wild and crazy cast of the show do many pratfalls and comic bits that are hilarious but since there are so many of them, I will try to describe a few of them now. The womanizing director of "Nothing's On", Lloyd, is Paul Warner. He sits in the audience during Act 1 doing a slow burn that boils over with the "play within a play's" cast ineptness until he finally yells the show is about "doors and sardines!" "It is a fucking farce" when the cast keeps questioning him for the meaning of things. Paul usually plays stern characters including Scrooge in "Christmas Carol" and Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life",gets to do more slapstick in the latter two acts. Lloyd's shenanigans with Brooke and Poppy constantly being given flowers at the wrong time as well as a bottle of whiskey which the some of the characters swig at their annoyance of each other is one of the comic bits in the second act while his entrance as the third robber in Act 3 is hysterical. Mary Beth Murphy is extremely funny. The last time I saw her as the Reverend Mother in "Nuncrackers", this time she plays the absent minded maid, Dotty who has trouble remembering her lines, entrances and props in Act 1. ( She can't remember whether to take or leave the sardines, the newspaper or to hang up the phone before leaving the stage.) She is secretly in love with fellow actor, Garry Lejeune (the last name in French means young) wonderfully played by the agile, Gavin Killea, a recent graduate of Hartt School of Music in Hartford, CT. He constantly runs up and down the stairs with the suitcase and in the last scene tumbles down the stairs, doing a backflip on landing on the floor, manages to rise and pass out falling over the back of the sofa. Their constant arguments in Act 2 are hysterical especially the different sexual positions that Garry finds Dotty in with the other actors. He tries to hit one of them with an axe and sticks a cactus plant up Lloyd's butt to punish them. Garry also mispronounces the maid's last name as Clackett, Clockett and so forth. The gorgeous brunette sexpot, Brooke who Garry wants to make love to and takes to the supposedly empty mansion is played by beautiful, blue-eyed Nicole Mayne who runs around in a black bustiere throughout most of the show. She keeps losing a contact lens and everyone is afraid to walk around so they won't step on it. Brooke continues to say her lines in Act 3 correctly even when she doesn't receive the right cue as everyone else is trying to cover for the mistakes around them. What a hoot!

The married couple who owns the house and have pretended to be vacationing in Spain to avoid paying taxes, Freddie and Belinda, are excellently played by real life married couple Brian and Laura Gustafson who recently got married last August. One of Brian's funniest bits is running up the long flight of stairs with his trousers around his ankles and not falling or tripping. The character also constantly gets nose bleeds, clumsily handles props and keeps giving the flowers and whiskey to the wrong person. (He also gets his face slapped violently several times in Act 1 and has a wonderful pratfall on the sardines in Act 3.) Laura's character knows all the backstage gossip including who is going out with who, spilling the beans about secret affairs accidentally. She constantly tries to stop an alcoholic actor to stop drinking by running up to his dressing room, hiding the bottle of whiskey which seems to always get back where he can find it. Laura as Belinda tries to cover the other people's errors in the final scene finally forcing Lloyd to explain things since is onstage as one of the three robbers.(I recently reviewed Brian and Laura in "The Wizard of Oz" last November) Greg Barbon is a hoot as the 60 year old Selsdon Mowbray. The elderly man is hard of hearing and is a lush who continually drinks but in the first scene he breaks the window pane three times when he hears his cue even though the other performers aren't ready for his entrance because they are still onstage. (Greg recently played Christopher Wren in "Mousetrap".) Katherine Joy is humorous as the shy, demure stage manager, Poppy who is wide-eyed and frightened during the show due to the director's constant yelling and the ineptness of "Nothing On's" cast. Poppy is secretly in love with Lloyd and at one point nearly comes to blows with Brooke in Act 2. Poppy keeps announcing the time to the elderly matinee audience while her assistant does it during the franticness of the scene. Act 2 ends with her blurting out she is pregnant with Lloyd's child, inducing him to sit on the cactus plant once again. Another comic performance is given by Sean Sullivan as Tim Allgood, the techie who is also the understudy for several of the men. In Act 1 he falls asleep behind the sofa as he runs around trying to fix all the doorknobs on the set while in the next one he constantly makes the wrong calls to the audience and continually buys flowers for Lloyd. In the last act he comes onstage to play Freddie while clutching the script page in his hand and quaking in his boots. So for a fantastic evening of hilarious escapades in a brilliant presentation, be sure to catch this excellent farce, "Noises Off" before time runs out.

"Noises Off" (20 - 29 March)
BAY COLONY PRODUCTIONS
Orpheum Theatre, 1 School Street, FOXBORO MA
1 (508) 543-ARTS ext. 4

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