BWW Review: NOISES OFF at CHAUTAUQUA THEATER COMPANY
FANTASTIC FARCE PLAYS OUT IN CHAUTAUQUA
There can be great comedy in repetition. Allowing an audience to think they know what is coming next but slipping in an unexpected variation on a theme can throw you for a comedic loop. This premise is the basis for Michael Frayn's rioutously successful 1982 farce, NOISES OFF. The Chautauqua Theater Company is mounting a joyous production in their Bratton Theater that has theatre goers giddy with the onstage silliness.
NOISES OFF tells the story of a rag tag English theatre troupe putting on their production of the fictional farce NOTHING ON. In Act 1 we witness the final dress rehearsal, where nothing goes right. In Act 2 the same play is performed but now our vantage point has been literally rotated to the backstage of the set. ACT 3 is near the end of the tour, the set rotates to its original position, and exhaustion and calamity ensues.
As with all farce, timing is of the essence. What needs to look a slipshod mess on stage must actually be a well oiled machine. Happily, Director Andrew Borba has assembled a fine ensemble with a mix of seasoned Equity actors and members of their younger Conservatory acting ensemble. Slamming doors, a scantily clad blonde bombshell, a drunken actor, flying and misplaced props, off stage romances, and endless plates of sardines are the recipe for NOISES OFF's success. Mr. Borba, also Artistic Director of the company, expertly guides the production making sure each joke lands and that each of the actors hits their mark with the requisite timing. On could actually imagine entire rehearsals just to keep track of where all those sardines need to be at all times!
Craig Wesley Divino is the frustrated director Lloyd, initially directing from ther back of the theatre, shouting expletives and cajoling his actors to please get on with the play. Carol Halstead anchors the production beautifully as Dotty, the aging grande dame who has invested in the show. (Remember from Mel Brooks THE PRODUCERS, "Never invest your own money in the show!") Her endearing gentle voice as the forgetful houskeeper in the first act morphs to a woman who has been forced to alcohol by the end of the tour. Kudos for her Act 3 pantomime, mimicking an off stage actor's physical calamity.
John Seidman is utterly believable as the past his prime actor Selsdon, who would rather curl up in his dressing room with a bottle of scotch than be bothered to make his entrance on stage, or even learn his lines, for that matter.
Kelsey Jenison is down right hilarious as Brooke, the young ditzy blond actress who performs by rote and rudimentary hand gestures, oblivious to her surroundings. Watching her prance around in her undies and high heels while searching for her lost contact lens or stroking a missing staircase banister had the audience guffawing. Patrick Foley was fun as the blustering Englishman Gary, often at a loss for real words, but full of guttural responses.
The large ensemble is complemented by the fine performances of Emily Daly and Will Harrison as the over wrought stage crew. Maggie Mason is charming as the cool headed Belinda, always in control- her winning stage presence makes her someone to watch in the future. Meanwhile Yonatan Gebeyehu plays Freddy, who is prone to fainting at the drop of a hat and must contend with his dropping trousers at inopportune times.
Scenic designer Tom Buderwitz's lovely two level English country set house functions well, allowing for physical gags on both levels, and all those doors and staircase give the actors an exhausting workout by the end of the play. An impressive stage turntable allowed for the fun set rotation between the acts. Sound designer Rob Kaplowitz has perfectly balanced the production, especially in the tricky second Act where the actors are facing upstage behind the scenery.
British farce, when done right, can be an excellent outlet for escapism. With present day real life full of it's own political farce, I recommend visiting the verdant grounds of the Chautauqua Institution and enjoying the fictional farce that is NOISES OFF.
NOISES OFF plays from June 30 through July 16, 2017. Contact chq.org for more information.