An enterprising Everyman Theatre board member calculated there are 152 laughs in Noises Off. Surely, he jests. There is easily three times that number in Everyman’s gonzo production under the banana-peel direction of artistic director Vincent M. Lancisi.
The resident company aces the split-second timing needed to pull off British playwright Michael Frayn’s 1982 backstage, play-within-a-play farce where everything falls apart on both sides of the curtain.
Noises Off centers on a third-rate British theater company’s efforts to put on a third-rate sex farce called Nothing On, the plot of which entails secretaries in their scanties, slamming doors, sardines and mysteriously vanishing and reappearing BOAC flight bags. (Make sure you read the faux Playbill for Nothing On, with its funny and fatuous actor biographies and a nonsensical essay about the origins of farce).
Lancisi and set designer Daniel Ettinger cleverly place the action in the 1970s, and joyful visual puns abound with cheesy period wallpaper in harvest gold and avocado green, an earth shoe-toned Me Decade palette and discotheque-inspired costumes by Eric Abele that are snazzy in that loud way that typifies the era. The canned, synthesized music also adds another layer of fromage to the production.
Nothing On is nothing special, but you would think the company was wrestling with Mourning Becomes Electra the way the actors blow lines, flub entrances and stumble over the blocking.
One thespian, Frederick Fellows (a hilariously over-emoting and persnickety Bruce Randolph Nelson), asks director Lloyd Dallas (a majestically piqued Carl Schurr) for his character’s motivation for carrying a box into another room. His partner in crime is the equally hammy Belinda Blair (Beth Hylton, playing the cloyingly chipper company busybody to the hilt), who “loves” and “darlings” everyone to near-suffocation.
The show’s star, Dotty Otley (Deborah Hazlett, divinely portraying the world-weary veteran actress who still is game for a prank or two), playing an adage-mangling housekeeper saddled with most of the farce’s larded exposition, cannot remember her lines — “It’s all those words,” she confides to the audience — or the plates of sardines so central to the plot.
Rounding out the company is Brooke Ashton (physical comedy doyen Emily Kester, who does most of her stunts teetering on platform heels), the sexy ingénue whose brain appears blissfully free of those pesky thoughts and Selsdon Mowbray (Wil Love), a old-timey Shakespearean actor with a hearing and hooch problem.
Backstage support includes harried stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Megan Anderson, comically weepy and hypersensitive) and gofer/understudy Tim Allgood (Eric Berryman, agile and accent-perfect as the addled crewmember).
After a disastrous dress rehearsal in Act One, the cast and crew deal with things far worse than missed cues and hiding the whiskey from Selsdon in the second half, where the two-story set swivels around to reveal the backstage area. Soured affairs, tiffs, love triangles and a matter involving ever-diminishing bouquets of flowers (the last one’s a cactus) make what’s happening in the wings far more riotous than the tired farce performed for the matinee audience.
closes June 18, 2017
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Anarchy rules as the actors sabotage one another, play pranks and conduct heated exchanges in comically mimed gestures. By the end, Nothing On has completely disintegrated, as the bloodied and befuddled cast completely ignores the script — except for Brooke, who vacantly soldiers on, nonplussed by the spiraling non sequiturs — in their quest for revenge.
To pull off something this disordered and extravagantly bonkers, you need expert timing and a rock-solid cast, and Everyman’s resident company rises—and pratfalls—admirably to the occasion. The performers execute the numerous feats with alarming authenticity and are always in control, even in the throes of an onstage nervous breakdown. It’s hard to get the sight of Nelson executing a wacky Watusi and his trousers fall down, revealing a garish set of boxer shorts. Or Gavigan hopping like a mad hatter up and down the stairs and across the set, trying to keep the play going despite the fact that Dottie has tethered his ankles.
Hazlett and Anderson’s frantic silent miming backstage is sublime chaos, and a miscommunication resulting in three identical burglars appearing onstage and saying their lines in unison will leave you helpless with laughter.
Both showbiz insiders and innocents will delight in this delirious depiction of backstage dramatics and the scarcely contained hysteria that goes into the making of live theater.
Noises Off by Michael Frayn . Director: Vincent M. Lancisi. Featuring: Deborah Hazlett, Carl Schurr, Danny Gavigan, Emily Kester, Megan Anderson, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Beth Hylton, Eric Berryman, Wil Love. Set Design: Daniel Ettinger. Lighting Design: Jay Herzog. Costume Design: Eric Abele. Sound Design: Phillip Owen. Fight Choreography: Lewis Shaw. Dialects: Gary Logan. Props Master: Jillian Mathews. Dramaturgy: Johanna Gruenhut. Stage Manager: Cat Wallis.