Sometimes, the very best show to watch in a theater is the one that happens when there is no audience around. NOISES OFF, now playing at Coronado’s Lambs Player’s through May 200th, proves this true in the farce that pokes fun while also simultaneously being a loving homage to the art of the theatre.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1982, this production is a play in three short acts (and 2 intermissions) that follows a theatrical touring production as they journey from rehearsal, to middle of the run, to limping into the final performances as it comes to a merciful end.
Everything and everyone are introduced in the first act as the players struggle to remember lines, cues, motivations, and entrances in a very late night rehearsal and while driving their director Lloyd (Francis Gercke) crazy. The play within a play is a bedroom farce of improbable plotting about couples sneaking around to sleep with each other, wealthy land owners hiding from the government because of taxes, a ditzy housekeeper, and lots and lots of slamming doors. This all requires timing and precision, which as the audience finds out in the first act, this cast of characters cannot manage even on the final rehearsal at midnight prior to their opening.
It’s close to midnight the day before opening and the cast is still nowhere near ready to perform. Dottie (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) can’t keep her lines, her props, or her timing right. Garry (Brian Mackey) and Brooke (Charlene Wilkinson) are playing a couple trying to find a place for a tryst, when the owners of the home Frederick ( Ross Hellwig) and Belinda (Jessica John) make a trip back to their home, while trying not to attract attention from the government since they owe quite a bit of money. Selsdor (Jim Chovick) rounds out the players as an established older actor, playing a burglar, who the rest of the cast tries to keep away from the booze so he’ll remember his lines.
No show is complete with the stage crew and this production is no different. The stage manager Poppy (Cynthia Gerber) is anxious and afraid of making mistakes, while Tim (Mori Schein) the stagehand has to understudy everyone while also trying to keep the backstage running smoothly.
In the second act we find them a month later, as we watch from backstage as the cast and crew, now thoroughly sick of each other, are embroiled in amorous affairs, communication issues, and misunderstandings that cause them to perform with considerably less care but still stick to the script. By the third and final act we are back in the audience and we find them all so thoroughly over the the show and their own company that the script, the set, and the professionalism are all barely being maintained.
All of this could go off the rails rather quickly, but in the hands of this talented cast the show and the laughs are a sure thing.
As Dottie, Gilmour Smyth keeps her character funny and endearing in the first act, but really ramps up the humor and the melodrama in the second act when the interpersonal relationships between the cast backstage starts to cause a commotion onstage.
Wilkinson brings a fun and silly air to Brooke, as she zones out completely in real (onstage) life, but vamps it up as the silly sexpot when in character in the play (it’s like the INCEPTION of plays). Mackey as Garry is impressive both in his performances on stage and his physicality with pratfalls.
Fellows as the wealthy Frederick brings a sweet insecurity as an actor who needs motivation for everything he does, from why he picks up a prop to why he says a line.
Gercke, is a hilariously weary as the director Lloyd as he grows increasingly frustrated with the entire process as he has RICHARD III waiting for him as his next project, but needs to keep the show together and his relationships with Brooke and Poppy under wraps.
Gerber’s Poppy is flustered, skittish, and gets even more anxious as the play goes on, but in true stage manager fashion does it in a less dramatic fashion than those on stage. Schein is a scene stealer as the other tried and true stage crew who is also an understudy, fixes the set, and runs Lloyd’s errands for him as needed.
John, smoothly makes her Belinda both a reliable actress who takes things in stride and tries to keep the peace while also delighting in being the cast gossip. Chovick is delightful as Selsdon, a slightly befuddled actor who never makes his entrance on time and is blissfully unaware of his cast member’s hard work in attempting and failing to keep him away from alcohol.
All of these antics, both onstage and backstage are found on a set designed by Mike Buckley that has to be able to be flipped and secured in an efficient manner (to the applause of the audience for the stage crew at the intermissions).
NOISES OFF is one of those plays that returns to the stage time and time again because it is a satisfying and entertaining comedy that pokes the very genre that is performing it. With this cast at Lamb’s, it is easy to see why this play is a perennial favorite worth the repeated viewing.
NOISES OFF is playing at Lamb’s Theatre through May 20th in Coronado. For ticket and show time information please go to www.lambsplayers.org or call 619-437-6000