BWW Review: Guthrie Theater Premieres Laughter and Mayhem in Rousing NOISES OFF

BWW Review: Guthrie Theater Premieres Laughter and Mayhem in Rousing NOISES OFF
Backstage of NOISES OFF
Photo Credit: Guthrie Theater

For the Guthrie Theater's final hurrah on the McGuire Proscenium Stage in 2018, the company presents a hilarious tribute to plates of sardines and humor in the farcical "Noises Off." English playwright' Michael Frayn's award winning 1982 play presents an alternative perspective to the theatrical process and everyone who participates in a production's success. Produced for the first time at the Guthrie, the farce features multiple doors, opening and closing, swinging axes, hurdling down steps and fanciful love triangles along with the iconic plate of sardines through this play within a play format.

That interesting British plate of sardines appears when the curtain opens--- the character Mrs. Clackett in the play "Nothing On" has difficulty remembering whether to remove the plate of sardines when she exits the stage or leaves them on an end table. Guthrie and stage veteran Sally Wingert plays the dual roles of Mrs. Clackett in "Nothing On," and the actress Dotty Otley in "Noises Off." Her recreation of this challenging role approaches perfection. Throughout the three acts, Wingert centers the cast in the old English house where all the action in "Nothing On" happens while the other characters enter and exit, drop their pants, or pursue other assorted antics, including the owners who return home from a Spanish holiday while avoiding tax collectors.

Another acting veteran, Raye Birk, gives a comic turn as an aging actor, Selsdon,who lands a second chance in a cameo performance as a burglar in "Nothing On." The cast keeps trying to remove any alcohol from his stage life, as any time the actor appears missing from the set, the cast fears he has begun drinking again. Johnny Wu, as Garry and Roger, paired with the pert Kate Loprest, playing Brooke and Vicki, present the attractive couple using the house for an afternoon rendezvous. That is, until the actual owners suddenly appear. Remy Auberjonois, as Frederick and Philip, couples with the luminous Laura Jordan, as his wife Flavia and actor Belinda.

Critical to both plays and structuring the pandemonium on stage, Nathan Keepers gives Director Lloyd a dry humor and air of nonchalance to keep the "Nothing On" production on schedule, and the "Noises Off" play grounded. From the first scene, Lloyd conducts a dress rehearsal within 24 hours from the play's opening night while the cast struggles with the lines and pertinent actions, while giving Lloyd their own interpretations of the play.

While Lloyd woos two of the actresses in the play "Nothing On," the panic builds as the production travels to different cities of the play's run. One of Lloyd's flames, the Assistant Stage Manager Poppy played by Kimberly Chatterjee, becomes a darling addition to this creative cast. If this all appears complex for the audience to manage, the playbill gives the audience numerous clues--- although the cast deftly handles these two plays seamlessly as the evening moves along with laughter.

Director Meredith McDonough paces the production through the three acts, slower in the first, and builds slowly to further comic release and the resulting mayhem when in the third. A cadre of feminine technical support, Scenic Designer Kate Sutton-Johnson, Costume Designer Sara Ryung Clement, and Sound Designer Jill BC Du Boff, complete the production with a marvelous set design that rotates to the behind the scenes set and multiple costume changes in an instant--including Brooke's inventive lingerie. And of course, there's the sound...Noises off in the theater "refers to offstage noise and sound effects," which also take center stage as the both plays unravel in the final scenes.

"Noises Off" fanciful moments depend completely on comic timing and giving audiences the sensation that each element remains completely spontaneous instead of staged. Comedy, especially farce, requires the actors continual attention to the play and how this appears to the audience, while rarely missing a cue. This Guthrie ensemble, which also includes JuCoby Johnson in the role of Tim Allgood as a harried stage manager and understudy, faces the challenge with literally flying sardines and seamless transitions, making the comedy both believable and hilarious.

While Guthrie Theater Artistic Director Joseph Haj claims sharing laughter is the best medicine to uncertainty in the world, "Noises Off," helps audiences realize any theater production creates unique magic on any given day. When an audience considers the thought, direction, actors and each element of producing only one theatrical production into account, perhaps for only one performance that presents a flawless evening, the process becomes nothing less than a miracle, as does any evening performance.

The production process moving start to finish requires the upmost professionalism from the selection of the play to a closing night performance. Any number of elements in a theatrical evening could go awry, and yet companies throughout the Twin Cities, and all over the country, produce entertaining, riveting, timeless and wondrous theater on a continual basis---without the audiences ever quite knowing what actually happens backstage. While applauding the playful and engaging farce in this rousing "Noises Off," where audiences encounter laughter to heal the soul, appreciate how theater lives as an amazing and relevant art form in the 21st century.

The Guthrie Theater presents "Noises Off "in the McGuire Proscenium Stage through December 16. For information or tickets to this performance, or the upcoming holiday presentation of "A Christmas Carol," please visit: www.guthrietheater.org.

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From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan

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