I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (seven? eight?) since first viewing it in London more than 30 years ago. I do know that every production of it I’ve seen (including Asolo Rep’s current version) has made me laugh—a tribute to Frayn’s genius for creating recognizable characters, a surefire premise and a farcical structure that’s hard to beat.
Frayn devised this box office hit as a play-within-a-play, and had the genius idea of placing his long-suffering actors in three different run-throughs of the same comedy scene in a show titled Nothing On, with the second act depicting the backstage shenanigans that exemplify the “The show must go on” motto. His playmates are well-known types in the theater world: the beloved older comedienne who has trouble remembering her lines and moves (appropriately named Dotty, and played here by Christianne Tisdale); her well-meaning but inarticulate toy boy Garry (Andrew Hardaway); the clueless actor in search of his motivation, Freddie (Dylan Crow); the bimbo-ish blonde, Brooke (Katie Sah); and the hard-drinking theater veteran, Selsdon (Steve Hendrickson).
Throw in an exhausted dogsbody named Tim Allgood (Scott Shomaker); an inexperienced stage manager named Poppy (Laura Rook); the peacemaker who knows everyone’s secrets, Belinda (Kate Hampton); and the poor director (Coburn Goss) trying to herd cats here, and you’ve got a just about perfect situation for laughs.
This Noises Off, under the direction of Don Stephenson, does not disappoint, although there are occasional moments when someone in the cast is trying too hard. In general, though, it runs like the well-oiled machine it needs to be, with Michael Schweikardt’s set (multiple doors, well-trod stairs and all) doing great service and Tracy Christensen’s costumes (especially the polka dot number worn by Brooke/Vicki) adding a visual sense of comedy, character and period.
FSU/Asolo Conservatory students Sah, Hardaway and Crow more than hold their own with the more established actors here, all of whom deliver precisely choreographed moves throughout, as well as elaborate mime sequences during Act II. It’s a release and a relief to be able to laugh out loud amid the bombardment of bad news daily, and Asolo Rep audiences should find both in this show.
Noises Off continues in rotating rep through April 20; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.