BWW Review: Walnut's NOISES OFF = NONSENSE ON!
Noises Off presents the story of a troupe of ill fated English actors who are touring a production of a farce called Nothing On. Nothing On must be about something, but it's hard to figure out what exactly. There are lots of doors slamming, sexual dalliances, confusions, and, of course, plates of sardines. The questions about the actors - who's in love with whom, who doesn't know what, why is everyone angry are every bit as deep (and irrelevant) as the questions about the characters they portray.
This more than entertaining Equity cast of Philly favorites is equally capable and willing to rouse up all the foolishness that seriously never ends until the final curtain. The play is divided into three acts. In the first, director Lloyd Dallas (Greg Wood) is drilling his cast at their final dress rehearsal, only hours away from the opening. His cast includes the ditsy Dotty (Mary Martello) who can barely remember her lines, the elderly and nearly deaf Selsdon (John Connolly), the blonde bombshell Brooke (Alanna J. Smith), the inarticulate Garry (Ben Dibble), the overly nervous Frederick (Leonard C. Haas), and the ever-game Belinda (Susan Riely Stevens). As the act progresses, it becomes clear that their problems go way beyond interpretive differences, and that just about anything could result from their difficulties ...and does.
Noises Off is a 1982 play by the English playwright Michael Frayn. The idea for it came in 1970, when Frayn was watching from the wings a performance of The Two of Us, a farce that he had written for Lynn Redgrave. He said, "It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind." The prototype, a short-lived one-act play called Exits, was written and performed in 1977. At the request of his associate, Michael Codron, Frayn expanded this into what would become Noises Off. It takes its title from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage.
During the second act, when the Nothing On actors are trying their hardest to both keep the play going and kill each other, something is amiss. The frantic stage managers Poppy and Tim played by Lauren Sowa and Daniel Frederick scramble throughout attempting to keep some sanity from scene to scene. You know who the characters are (sorta) and you know why they're fighting (kinda), but some comedic elements are missing, and that prevents achieving wall-to-wall hilarity. You'll probably have a grin on your face the whole time, but huge laughs may be fewer and farther between. The laughs are far more common in the chaotic third act, when the tour has fallen apart, and everyone is just trying to make it through the final performance. I almost wish the show had been re-written for 2 acts as I typically find 3 acts fairly exhausting, but then I didn't write this epic!
It's hard to pick out an outstanding cast member as each are solidly grounded in their roles. However, Ben Dibble dazzles clumsily and Mary Martello the "Lucille Ball/ Carol Brunette" of Philly steal the majority of the laughs especially in act three. I nearly feel sorry for newcomers to NOISES OFF as this Brit piece is particularly Spamalot and Benny Hill meet The Marx Brothers and 3 Stoogies. Still the laughs keep coming every decade or so when NOISES OFF comes to town. Direction by Frank Anzalone is well executed and BIG hats off to the scenic designer Robert Koharchik and Fight Director Darren Hengst certainly have their work cut out for them.
Photo Credits: Mark Garvin