OREM — One of the most enduring farces in modern theatre is Noises Off. Playing in the early 1980’s on the West End and Broadway, and revived on the Great White Way about every 15 years, Noises Off is a staple of theatre companies throughout the United States. And it’s easy to see why: the play is cleverly structured and full of nearly every type of humor, including slapstick, situational comedy, sight gags, and more. This crowd pleaser is on stage right now at the SCERA Center for the Arts in a production that frequently reminds audience members why Noises Off is such a popular play.
Noises Off is Michael Frayn‘s backstage farce about the stresses and anxieties involved with staging and performing the fictional play Nothing On. The first act of Noises Off takes place during the last evening of the under-rehearsed play. The second act shows a backstage view of a performance of the play a month into its tour. The final act shows the cast performing after three months of getting on one another’s nerves. In total, the audience watches three versions of Nothing On, each with its own version of interpersonal chaos.
The most important ingredient of any farce is the timing. Fortunately, director Chase Ramsey has rehearsed his cast so to the point where every joke and gesture is executed with almost military-level precision. The result is a Noises Off that has all the madcap pacing and relentless hilarity that audiences could ever want in a farce. Ramsey has ensured that there is never a single second of dead time in the play, and the outcome was a running time just under two hours (including two 10-minute intermissions). If anything, the play perhaps ran a little too quickly, as important lines (such as Poppy’s final line in the second act) and some joke punchlines were muddled because actors spoke too quickly. But the vast majority of the play had the perfect rhythm and timing for a farce.
Non-Equity casts often have difficulty play actors, because it can be difficult to give a performance with the needed layers of choices. After all, creating a character is harder than it appears; creating a character who then in turn creates a character is exponentially more difficult. The most successful actor in this regard was David Paul Smith, whose created a clear distinction between his character—the verbally deficient Garry Lejeune—and Garry’s character—the debonair Roger Templemain. The way Garry struggled to choose his words (frequently by saying, “Well . . . you know,”) was a enjoyable running gag. The payoff in the third act was particularly rewarding as Garry tries to ad lib and clearly doesn’t have the skills to do so. Smith also capitalized on the visual humor in the second act by making Garry frazzled and stressed enough to be willing to sabotage his fellow actors in various ways.
A pleasant surprise in this production was Shannon Follette in the role of Belinda Blair, a character I have never thought much about. Follette emphasized Belinda’s calmness and intelligence, and made Belinda the most rational character in the second and third acts of the play. Consequently, Belinda’s efforts of keeping the peace among the cast (whether by trying to keep Selsdon sober or helping feuding actors make amends) kept Noises Off grounded enough in reality to give the show urgency and prevent it from degrading into meaningless absurdity.
Other cast members were similarly commendable, including Rex Kocherhans as the long-suffering director Lloyd Dallas, Brittni Bills Smith as the ditzy Brooke Ashton, and Shawn M. Mortensen in the role of the Frederick Fellowes. All of these actors exploited their characters’ quirks, and as these personality flaws were magnified as the play proceeded, each avoided portraying a mere caricature. As a result, this production of Noises Off had a human element that made it easy to sympathize with each character’s frustrations.
But at its heart, Noises Off is just plain funny. All of the components of a successful production are present in the SCERA’s version of the farce, and the entire cross-section of SCERA’s audience will enjoy this play immensely. The fictional Nothing On may have a 12-week run, but the real Noises Off plays only until October 7 at the SCERA, and I urge readers to make time in their busy schedule to catch this delightful show.