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BWW Review: Everyman Makes A Ruckus With NOISES OFF

"I haven't come to the theater to hear about other people's problems. I've come to be taken out of myself, and, preferably, not put back again." --Michael Frayn, author of NOISES OFF.

Everyman Theatre's production of the show Samuel French cagily asserts is "called the funniest farce ever written" absolutely will take you out of yourself. Putting yourself back is optional.

If you're a fan of Farce considering going to see NOISES OFF at Everyman Theatre, stop considering, get off that fence and buy tickets this minute. If you don't think you like Farce, NOISES OFF could change your mind. If you're not sure, or don't know what Farce is, exactly, allow me to elucidate.

Your Programme contains an extensive explanation, but, briefly, Farce is an ancient comedic form which includes older Italian-style stock characters, broad physical comedy and acrobatics, 17th Century French elements of snappy dialogue and verbal wit, and later Bedroom Farce, full of doors, unseen onlookers and sexual innuendo. NOISES OFF, written by Michael Frayn is a fabulous example of all three. I love Farce, and have been waiting to see NOISES OFF since reading the script as a theater student at Loyola College.

In the bustle of downtown, Everyman Theatre is located across the street from a convenient parking garage- convenient, if you use plastic for such transactions. If you're a cash-only person, take public transit or seek parking elsewhere; information on each option here: http://everymantheatre.org/directions-parking. If you arrive early enough, street parking is also possible.

Everyman Theatre hasn't grown too posh for its city britches, and feels like a real place, (Center Stage, I'm judging your 'renovations'), featuring a reasonably-priced snack and beverage bar, with pleasant, accommodating staff. Food isn't allowed in the theatre, but you may take wine (or coffee), as long as it has a lid, firmly seated. That's more easily mentioned than managed, but the ushers are helpful.

Seating in Everyman is cleverly arranged: the division into sections makes access easier than long rows do. Rows are spaced generously, so people scootching past seated guests is less awkward for all parties than is customary.

Everyman's Resident Company is "back together again," which seems important to the show's director, Vincent Lancisi, also Artistic Director of Everyman. His vision guides the ensemble to heights of comedy and depths of pratfalls with the dexterity of a live sardine.

Michael Frayn's script deliberately gives few character notes to his players, leaving wiggle room for future director/actor teams, though, to be fair, stock characters are stock, and should be. The premise is that we witness the evolution of "Nothing On," a vehicle for almost has-been Dotty Otley. The second act of Nothing On is irrelevant, as we see three versions of the first act. Without revealing plot details, I can confirm that every setup from Act I sees a payoff in Act II, with many callbacks in Act III. Commedically, this is an extremely satisfying show.

Most cast members perform more than one character. Bruce Randolph Nelson is hilariously well-intentioned but flummoxed as Freddy. As Dotty, Deborah Hazlett delivers sass and uncertainty in equal parts. Garry, played by brilliant physical comedian Danny Gavigan, is alternately hapless, furious and smarmy. Wil Love, as Selsdon, achieves a near-savant state of experienced performer serendipity. As Belinda, cast "mother," Beth Hylton is warm and charming, managing dialogue peppered with cloying endearments in a natural, convincing way. Emily Kester takes the cake for cute, embodying in Brooke That Actor who delivers memorized lines reliably, regardless of circumstance. Whether Brooke or Vikki, Kester is adorable and handles her costuming peculiarities perfectly.

The "production team" members are- apparently, are written- as more endearing than any actual techs I've known: largely, a cynical and surly lot, inclined to punning, snarky remarks and distancing themselves from inveiglement. Poppy, in the hands of Megan Anderson, becomes frazzled rather than irritable. Eric Berryman, as sleep-deprived tech Tim, resists telling actors where to shove it; instead is artificially wide-eyed and earnest. As Director Lloyd Dallas, Carl Schurr is wryly resigned, with the air of one who's Seen It All.

NOISES OFF, an English show, contains dialogue which makes more sense in an English accent. Dialect coach Gary Logan helps the cast to have not 'a' British accent, the generic television one which no one uses except on television, but each actor a specific regional dialect; in some cases, two.

The programme notes include Fight Choreography by Lewis Shaw, though I didn't recall sword-fights, brawls or pugilistic matches in the script. Act II, however, mainly pantomimed, is full of incidental weaponry, prop handoffs, physical altercations, near-misses and a disappearing/reappearing bottle. Of course the show needs a fight choreographer, despite the absence of traditional stage combat. The entirety of Act II is balletic in its intricacy, masterful in its execution. The actors display remarkable athleticism: their emotions may be feigned, but their sweat is verifiably real.

Kudos to Stage Manager Cat Wallis and Properties Master Jillian Mathews. There is a plethora of "stuff" and "business" to this show, and every bit runs smooth as glass. Creating chaos, like comedy, is more difficult than it appears.

Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger accomplishes a theatric improbability: a set that's fully functional from both sides. Many audience members watch stagehands turn the construction around without pneumatics, only person-power. It's a seven-person job, similar to the swift teamwork of a baseball field crew rolling the giant rain-delay tarp. Applause follows.

Jay Herzog's lighting design is perfect in its invisibility. Everyone is beautifully lit, with no hot spots, and shadows exactly where they belong. Costuming design, by Eric Abele, curiously looks both contemporary and 1970s. Each outfit reveals character, facilitates frenetic action and falls off on cue.

Special notice belongs to Phillip Owen's sound design. Many theatregoers won't realize the different levels of sound necessary for a convincing rendition of this show nor the precise timing of sound technicians. The sound quality is impeccable: anything but crystal clarity for each word, thump, slam or other effect and the whole thing would've been incomprehensible. It's delightfully comprehensible, and nobody's in doubt when to laugh, or if.

Everyman pays exquisite attention to each detail and creates an astounding feat of comedy in NOISES OFF. Do yourself, your lungs and your liver a favor and enjoy the raucous riot. Don't be surprised if you find yourself craving sardines afterwards.

NOISES OFF plays at Everyman through June 18th. The show is two and a half hours, including two intermissions. Everyman is at 315 West Fayette Street in Baltimore City. For tickets, visit https://everyman.secure.force.com/ticket, call the Box Office at 410-752-2208 or email boxoffice@everymantheatre.org.

Tuesdays through Thursdays, showtime is 7:30 pm

Friday and Saturday nights, showtime is 8:00 pm

Saturday and Sunday Matinees are 2:00 pm

Photo Credit: Clinton B Photography


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