As noted last week, A Noise Within’s current production of Shakespeare’s Richard III proves once again that nobody does the Bard better than  “California’s Home For The Classics.” A Noise Within now proves itself equally adept at contemporary British farce in their concurrently running revival of Michael Frayn’s 1982’s Noises Off, the latest (and most recent) of the modern classics ANW intersperses amongst its productions of Shakespeare, Shaw, and The Greeks.

Not every theater company is up to the demands of Noises Off.  Only actors with total command of their lines, perfect coming timing, and absolute readiness to enter and exit on cue again and again and again can do this contemporary comedy classic justice.  Fortunately, the cast now performing at A Noise Within meet all three criteria.

Noises Off, for anyone who’s missed either the play or Peter Bogdanovich’s film version, centers on a troupe of actors with none of the above prerequisites getting ready for an opening night.  As might be imagined, lines are forgotten, timing is off, cues are missed, and the entire production is an absolute mess. On the other hand, an absolute mess Noises Off most definitely is not.  It is, instead, an absolutely brilliant piece of theater, quite possibly the most chaotic (and imaginative) farce ever written, and that’s saying a good deal.

Frayn’s comedy is divided into three acts, with two intermissions absolutely de rigueur. Act One is the final dress rehearsal of Nothing On, the play-within-a-play, in which everything seems to go wrong. “Everything,” it turns out, is just a fraction of what goes wrong in Act Two, in which the audience gets to see what’s happening backstage during a performance of the play a month later.  In Act Three, at the tail end of Nothing On’s disastrous tour through the provinces, we once again observe the goings on from the audience’s point of view, and witness a production which has gone from bad to worse to complete shambles.  

As Noises Off (and Nothing On) continue on their accident-prone course, Brooke strips down to her underwear, Frederick ends up with his pants around his ankles, various actors are draped with sheets, and doors don’t stop slamming open and shut.  Cues are missed (repeatedly), entrances are mistimed (equally often), and sardines end up spilled here, there and everywhere.  Expect to be laughing so hard it hurts.

The cast assembled by Noises Off director/star Geoff Elliott is out-and-out brilliant at the demands of farce—razor-sharp timing, athletic physical comedy, and outrageous characterizations.  Elliott, a master of drama and tragedy, proves himself equally adept at farce as Lloyd Dallas, Nothing On’s temperamental director, steadily growing more and more harried as his cast of misfits makes goof after goof.

Deborah Strang is wacky Dotty Otley, an almost over-the-hill regional theater character actress who can’t seem to remember when to bring the sardines on, when to take the newspaper off, when to put the phone receiver down… The list goes on and on.

Mikael Salazar portrays Garry Lejeune, a leading man growing increasingly suspicious of paramour Dotty’s relationship with castmate Frederick Fellowes.

Stephen Rockwell is Frederick, a character actor who cannot move a box from here to there without examining his “motivation,” and who is all too susceptible to nosebleeds and dropped drawers.

Jill Hill plays Belinda Blair, arguably the sanest member of the company, who may harbor a secret crush on Freddie.

Lenne Klingaman is Poppy Norton-Taylor, the overly emotional assistant stage manager, understudy for bimbo “actress” Brooke Ashton, and understudy to the understudy for alcoholic stage vet Selsdon Mowbray.

Emily Kosloski portrays Brooke, a curvaceous blonde with the IQ of a pigeon, whose line readings and onstage moves are so set in stone that she could be the only actor on stage and still go on with the play. Oh, and she also has quite a problem keeping her contact lenses in her eyes.

Apollo Dukakis is Selsdon, a gent who’s been in the theater possibly as long as Elizabeth II has been Queen, and an actor whose morning coffee is a shot of whiskey. Nooks and crannies abound with his stashed bottles of booze.

Shaun Anthony completes the cast as Tim, stage manager, understudy for Selsdon and Freddy, and resident gofer.

One of the greatest pleasures in this particular Noises Off is its cast of A Noise Within resident artists and frequent guest artists doing every bit as fine work in a contemporary slapstick farce as they have many times before in Shakespearean or Greek tragedies, in Ibsen or Chekhov or Moliere.  There’s not a weak link in the entire cast, and anyone looking for proof of versatility has only to see Strang, Klingaman, Dukakis, and Anthony in the The Tragedy Of King Richard III, still running in rep with Noises Off.  You won’t recognize any of them without a cast list.

Adam Lillibridge’s terrific set design looks exactly like what one might expect for the third-rate regional touring production of Nothing On, unlike the a-bit-too-lavish sets one sometimes sees in big budget productions of Noises Off. The crew (ANW Interns Lewis Blanchard, Sarah Chang, Kaie Elsaesser, Stefan Tabencki, and Mary-Eileen Young) deserve major snaps for turning the two-story set around not once but twice, performance above and beyond the call of duty! Ken Booth’s lighting, Patrick Hotchkiss’s sound design (including a great 60s sounding “theme song”), Renee Thompson Cash’s properties (those sardines!) and of course Soo Jin Lee’s as always splendid costumes also deserve big thumbs up.

Sunday’s matinee was sold-out, and with a production as perfect as this one, my guess is that there’ll be many more SRO performances.  Book your tickets now.  A Noise Within’s Noises Off is Noise (Within and Off) at its finest!

A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

–Steven Stanley
November 22, 2009
                                                                       Photos: Craig Schwartz

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