BWW Reviews: Little Theatre of Manchester's NOISES OFF is a Door-Slamming Delight
Theatre: Little Theatre of Manchester
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester, CT
Production: By Michael Frayn; Directed by Debi Freund; Lighting Design by Glen Aliczi and Linda Ferreira; Costume Design by Julie Waxman; Sound Design by Ronald Schallack. Through March 2; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m. Thursday, February 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $19-$24, call 860-647-9824 or visit www.cheneyhall.org.
There are certain shows that can be rightly considered a love letter to theatre. I would put shows like 42nd Street, A Chorus Line and even The Producers into this category. In her director's note, Debi Freund, calls Little Theatre of Manchester's new production of the farce Noises Off, "a love letter to the theatre community." I politely disagree. Noises Off is the closest thing I've seen to showing what life is really like behind the scenes on a play - and it ain't pretty. Michael Frayn's comedy hilariously gets frighteningly close to the oft-diseased heart of the theatre.
Megalomaniac directors, insecure actors, backstage trysting and the occasional dipsomaniac? Yep, it's all here. I can imagine that it must be a riot to act in this on-stage/backstage, upstairs/downstairs farce. It certainly is a riot to watch. Although not an altogether perfect play, this very British comedy is a wonderfully diverting evening of theatre while poking fun at the characters that populate the drama.
A beloved Little Theatre of Manchester fixture, director Debi Freund certainly grasps the machinations of putting on a play. Better yet, she understands the elements of a door-slamming farce. This is particularly important as Noises Off flip-flops the audience's perspective on what occurs both onstage and off, with eight doors awaiting dozens of entrances and exits.
The first act shows the final technical dress rehearsal the night before a comedy entitled Nothing On. The production is initially plagued by forgotten lines, missed cues, merry mishaps, and the like. The second act rotates the spectacular set (designed by the LTM cast and crew) and now places us backstage with the tour now underway. As the show has become second nature onstage, the cast has now become a family at each other's throats. While the first act is very chatty, the second act becomes mostly a dumb show with antic pantomime evidencing the angry chaos that has replaced professional respect.
The third act spins the set back into place again and shows how the tortured backstage relationships have bled onstage, leading to the demise of the production as the cast's tour grinds to a halt. At this point, the characters onstage and the actors who portray them have become almost indistinguishable.
Playwright Michael Frayn has populated his play with a combination of stock roles and character parts that allow very little of the spinning scenery to go unchewed. Although Freund has ideally cast her Noises Off, about 50% of the cast seems to realize that they have to throttle every bit of comic juice out of their parts. The other half have a little more work to do.
Angie Joachim, making her Cheney Hall debut, deftly modulates her portrayal of Dotty Otley from a genial performer to a love-crazed frenzy to a befuddled mess. She delivers the goods in a role made famous by Dorothy Louden, Carol Burnett and Patti LuPone. Shawn Procuniar is marvelous as her initial love interest, Garry. He is particularly adept at balancing the witty text and the physical comedy, something this show requires in spades.
Vanda Doyle is pitch-perfect and wonderfully comic as Belinda, while being well-matched with Brian Rucci as the woozy and needy Frederick. Ed Bernstein is a standout in the drily funny role of Selsdon, the cast's requisite souse. Is there anyone on a Connecticut stage that does British comedy better than Bernstein? I don't think so.
The remainder of the cast are solid, but have yet to truly mine the comic depths of their parts. Once the initial demands of the production, with its split-second timing and prop-heavy wrangling, are out of the way, I am hopeful that they will all become more playful and comfortable in their roles. The third act comes across as a little flat after the boisterous second act, but there is time for the cast to find its footing and fully invest in delivering an appropriately manic finale.
Little Theatre of Manchester has done its usually solid job with the technical elements, particularly important in a play about a play. With Noises Off, LTM is off to a raucous start to its 2014 season. With all of this snow and cold, we could use a good laugh.
Cast photo by Chris Heustis of Photosynthesis.