A classic comedic whirlwind from Michael Frayn, Noises Off, commences a very promising seventh season for TheatreSquared. A farce within a farce (lest we forget, all of the world is a stage…especially backstage), the opening act is the final dress rehearsal for the ridiculous (and fictional) touring comedy, “Nothing On.” The second and third acts have essentially the same plot – the actors performing the first scenes on an ill-fated tour of their show. The comedy is the unraveling control the characters have over their production – like in every good farce, everything eventually goes wrong.
I’ve been told that Noises Off is an actor’s play – something most theatre actors take a shine to because its premise is the comedic disaster that any theatrical production prays to avoid in putting on a show. On stage, they can live out the fantasy of their worst nightmare. And because theatre folk are just that way, they love it. Audiences do, too.
The magic of the play is in the limitless escalation of the catastrophe. Director Morgan Hicks, who also directed last season’s riotous Boeing-Boeing, handles the complex machinery of ever-increasing chaos well – by the end we are wading through pure disaster, unsurprisingly to hilarious effect.
Hicks has also cast a bubbling ensemble full to the brim with Fayetteville favorites and TheatreSquared alum. Faithful theatre-goers will recognize Erika Wilhite and Chris Crawford from their season-opener performances last year, as well as Kristopher Stoker from his turn in The 39 Steps the year before. Justin Cunningham, Jordan Haynes and Kathy Logelin are all returners, as well. And if this wasn’t enough to thrill local lovers of comedy, Mark Landon Smith, co-director of the comedy troupe Phunbags, plays the irreplaceable Selsdon.
I’m also particularly excited about the new faces to the T2 stage, the sexy Arianne Ellison and Sarah Jane Robinson, whose love-triangle with Cunningham’s Lloyd (fated director of this Titanic) underpins the absurdity. And, of course, in a play whose sole goal is to carefully redefine “unmanageable,” the mirror love-triangle between Wilhite’s doddering Dotty, Stoker’s Garry and Hayne’s innocent Freddy, is even more outrageous. But even these bedroom dramas are brushed aside for the upending death throes of their ultimate performance.
For me, the second act has it. The heart of the play famously turns to the backstage where the actors have finally reached a boiling point in their relationships along this harrowing tour. The first act cleverly disguises all of the necessary exposition for the successive breakdown of poor “Nothing On,” but doesn’t hold much else beyond character development. The second act steals all of the thunder from the third, by which time we are maybe overly prepared for what is to come.
Crawford’s and Logelin’s performances were especially well-grounded. One silent exchange between them, again in the second act, when Logelin’s Belinda gestures benevolently to Crawford’s overtaxed Tim was one of my favorite moments. But then there is so much action swirling on stage, that audience members will inevitably walk away with different moments to adore. I think the latter half of the Noises Off run could really be dangerous, once this sizeable and undeniably talented cast polishes the edges on this four-alarm romp. I’ll be seeing this one again.
It’s a madcap comedy where anything could happen. And let’s face it, we all need to dose up occasionally on vitamin pratfalls and gags just to get back to the nonsense of the real world a little more at ease.
TheatreSquared’s production of Noises Off runs through Sept. 23. Tickets can be purchased through the Walton Arts Center box office by calling 479-443-5600. Visit theatre2.org for more information.
Tobias writes theatre reviews for the Fayetteville Flyer. He is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts through the Arkansas Programs in Creative Writing and Translation and teaches at the University of Arkansas. He is also an associate company member with The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre. For more of Tobias’ contributions, see his author page.
Audience reactions – Noises Off
Courtesy: Dgold, YouTube