Many thespians adore "Noises Off. " And that's really quite big of them. Because, among other things, Michael Frayn's gold-standard, 1982 backstage/onstage comedy now running...
Many thespians adore “Noises Off.” And that’s really quite big of them. Because, among other things, Michael Frayn’s gold-standard, 1982 backstage/onstage comedy now running, in a new production, at Seattle Repertory Theatre makes a whale of a case for the old Alfred Hitchcock dictum that actors behave like children.
By the end of Frayn’s bravado farce-within-a-farce, a fictional English acting troupe touring the provinces has devolved into such nursery-room brats, they willfully demolish the play they’re performing (a deliciously idiotic British sex comedy titled “Nothing On”), what’s left of their personal camaraderie and any last shred of their professional pride.
Paradoxically, those charged with bringing off Frayn’s intricate ballet of implosion are challenged to dispatch a full range of classic hijinks from arch verbal comedy, to near-acrobatic displays of what historian Albert Bermel terms the “danger, destruction, and torment” of door-slamming, ax-wielding, trousers-falling, sardine-tossing farce.
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Lori Larsen, Suzanne Bouchard, Mark Chamberlin, Bhama Roget and the other local lights in Seattle Rep’s “Noises Off” are clearly up to the task, under the guidance of director Richard Seyd (who has previously staged Frayn’s script at several California theaters).
There are hilarious moments here, catalyzing satisfying giggles and all-out belly laughs. But one big, important note to the players: The mirth would start flowing earlier with a much snappier, less tentative reading of the show’s first act. (You guys have got it, so now flaunt it.)
That opening scene is an exasperating, late-night dress rehearsal for the ill-fated sex farce “Nothing On.” It establishes Frayn’s stock double-characters and sets up the ingenious barrage of gags in Act 2. And it can, and should, accomplish all that more briskly.
Yet if the pacing isn’t ideal yet, the casting for this “Noises Off” is spot on. And that’s critical, because every cog in Frayn’s comedic contraption is essential to its merriment.
Larsen adds an airy, charming bounce to her characterization of the graying British stage star Dotty, a flustered top banana who has (mistakenly) invested her life’s savings in “Nothing’s On” and plays a charwoman in it. As her younger lover and co-star Garry, Bradford Farwell is a terrific find as a sincere but wildly inarticulate (and none-too-bright) guy in way over his head.
Chamberlin oozes sarcastic authority as Lloyd Dallas, the frustrated director trying to hold together a disintegrating show while his own caddish dalliances make matters worse. Roget (an alum of many Empty Space Theatre romps) at last gets a broader showcase for her dishy, zany clowning in the role of Brooke, a bimbo ingénue who performs (and seemingly lives) on automatic pilot.
And the ensemble is well rounded out by Clayton Corzatte’s dreamy, impish old ham Selsdon; Michael Patten’s ultra-sensitive “half wit” thespian Frederick; Bouchard’s unctuous company busybody and meddler, Belinda; and Stephanie Timm and Mark Anders as the hapless, shamefully exploited stagehands who have to mop up everyone else’s messes.
In Act 2, which occurs backstage during a chaotic performance of “Nothing’s On” a month into its tour, Frayn gleefully rips away the thin veil of British politesse and reveals the raw mechanics of theatrical illusion.
Dotty and company may still address one another as “love” and “darling” and “my sweet” as they play the Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne. But petty squabbles and sexual jealousies inspire them to sabotage their comrades with some sophomoric (and very funny) pranks, mimed threats and outright acts of violence.
By the final scene, of their final performance of “Nothing’s On” at some godforsaken theater in Stockton-on-Tees, all civility has been laid to waste. And as they attempt to go through the motions of entertaining an audience, Murphy’s Law reigns. Props go awry, naked aggressions are bared, even the final curtain misbehaves.
Seyd inserts a different sight-gag ending than the one described in the 2000 revision of Frayn’s script (a hit in London and on Broadway). If that piece of fresh business and others were coupled with some zippier pacing, this demolition comedy would be all the funnier.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org