BWW Reviews: NOISES OFF Leaves Audience in Stitches at The Clarence Brown Theatre
I had the pleasure of heading to Knoxville this past weekend to see Noises Off, by Michael Frayn, in The Clarence Brown Theatre at the University of Tennessee. Noises Off is truly a show meant for theatre people. Focusing on the production of a fictional play called Nothing On, the audience is taken behind the scenes of a play that seems cursed from the start. With direction by Greg Leaming, this show leaves the audience in stitches from the very first scene.
Played much like a slap-stick comedy, Noises Off can be a little hard to follow at times because each actor plays a role who plays a role. The Clarence Brown Theatre solved some of this by including the program for Nothing On in the pages of their own program, complete with cast bios for the fictional characters. This helped tremendously when I was able to glance at it during the intermissions.
We meet our cast in the first act and very quickly it's apparent that we have all of the cliché roles filed. We have Dotty, the "famous" actress with money invested in the show. We have Brooke, the beautiful and young starlet who overacts much of her role. There's Selsdon, the alcoholic and Poppy the scattered stage manager with too many pencils in her hair. Frederick fills the role of the actor who can't form a coherent sentence if it isn't scripted for him.
We spend act one with the cast of Nothing On during their final dress rehearsal. A complete mess, you can't help but wonder how they are going to pull off opening night. I'm sure if you've ever been involved in theatre, you have heard or experienced a similar dress rehearsal, though maybe not to the extreme as those in Noises Off.
In act two we see the show several weeks later, out on tour. At this point I must mention the amazing set that rotated on stage so that the audience went from looking at the front of the set in act one, to the backstage views in act two. Christopher Pickart, the scenic designer, used a very creative way to bring the audience where it needed to be. We now see the chaos that ensues backstage. And we see that the relationship of the actors in the show is falling completely apart due to show-mances that are failing and actors who are trying to make the show happen, despite the drama backstage.
Just when you think you can't possibly laugh anymore, we enter act three. Again, it is several weeks after the previous act. The tour of Nothing On is coming to a close, much to relief of the cast and crew. But this time, the drama doesn't just happen backstage. The show manages to completely fall apart onstage, in front of their audience.
There are certainly some amazingly talented actors onstage at The Clarence Brown Theatre. Noises Off was proof of that. Most notably for me, Katie Cunningham, who plays Brooke Ashton (who plays Vicki!) and Gail Rastorfer who plays Dotty Otley (who plays Mrs. Clackett). Both Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Rastorfer had comedic timing down to an art. Katie Cunningham managed to give Brooke Ashton that perfect mix of air-head and inexperience actress. Gail Rastofer had me laughing from her first line and I am completely sure that everything she said onstage brought at least a smile to my face.
Jed Diamond played Selsdon Mowbray, an actor who had managed to drink himself out of work. A last chance job (a favor by Dotty Otley) has him working again, but struggling to stay away from "the drink." Mr. Diamond had a wonderful way of bringing Selsdon to life in a way that seemed realistic, yet hilarious. When Selsdon was on, he was ON. When he spotted alcohol, he was a complete mess. Diamond made a great comedic representation of what happens to far too many people in the acting business, Essentially making it a light look at a dark subject.
I will say there were a few times in the show that I wondered if three acts were completely necessary. While every single second was hilariously funny, toward the end of act three I couldn't help but think it was running on a little long. That, however, was not the fault of this production of Noises Off, rather a fault on the part of the author.