Centerville — If you’ve seen Noises Off (either the film or or the stage version), then you know of Gary, one of the classic comedic characters in theater. He tends to stutter through life and ends many of his statements with an uncertain “you know.” Noises Off, currently playing at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, is full of colorful characters like Gary as this farce within a farce barrels out of control. The first act introduces us to a troupe of actors as they rehearse late into the night before they open their show, Nothing On (a farce) the next day.
Like most farces, Noises Off is a hysterical ride that propels us into a world of absolute chaos and out-of-control laughter. This show is the perfect example of what a farce should be with its quickened pace, improbable interactions an random plot twists. Noises Off is probably my favorite comedic piece of theater and I commend writer Michael Frayn on the sheer brilliance and insanity that he has created.
The second act takes us back stage as the actors rush on and off the set of Nothing On. Other than the lines from the show they are doing, most of this act is without dialogue as we observe the silent backstage mayhem. The third and final act is completely nonsensical and absurd, but absolutely fantastic. Best said by the Nothing On director Lloyd (David Marsden), this show is about “doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce.”
One of the things I most enjoy about this show is the potential for things to go wrong, thus forcing the actors to improvise. The fun thing about this is the fact that so much is actually scripted to go wrong that one would be hard pressed to see when something is intended or is truly a misstep. One such moment came during the performance I saw on Friday night during the first act where Gary (Lee Cannon) is on the phone and the phone cord comes unplugged form the handset. I think this was an actual mishap, but Cannon had so much fun with improvization that it became one of the funniest and authentic moments of the night.
Linda Jean Stephenson plays the sardine-obsessed Dotty with such delight. I thoroughly enjoyed her transformation from struggling to remember her lines and props to overtly not caring and muttering “I’ve never lost the phone before,” on stage during Nothing On. David Marsden as Lloyd is the embodiment of a director who watches his show spin out of control from the sidelines. I worried he might actually blow his top with his struggle to control his temper in the “What’s that dad?” interaction with the flaky, cell-phone playing (nice addition) Brooke (Kati Paul). Freddie (Bob Bedore) was most hysterical in the third act with his dramatic aversion to violence and continuous apologies. Scott Van Dyke as Selsdon chasing the bottle of whisky through the whole show and Cameron Garner (who needs to work on enunciation a little) as Tim trying to buy the flowers were the highlights in act two. Stage hand Poppy (Paige Hunsicker) and gossip queen Belinda (Mara Lefler) were both enjoyable to watch as well. However, there was one character that I just couldn’t connect to. I worry that Kati Paul was miscast as the oblivious Brooke, who is supposed to be flightily and ditzy but felt rather flat and unresponsive instead.
The direction of the show is pretty solid. I’ve heard from directors, that they feel like Lloyd (the director of Nothing On in the show) as they work through Noises Off. While incredibly funny, it is complex and I imagine unbelievably difficult to direct. Josh Richardson (the real director of Noises Off for CenterPoint Legacy Theatre) does a good job getting the necessary pieces in place for this show to move forward. Considering the complexity of the play, Richardson’s choices work. However, the play needs to be tightened up quite a bit. I suspect this will come as the actors get more confident with the live audience, but much of act two is still obviously choreographed rather than fluid and natural. What is lacking in timing is made up by the sheer hilarity of what writer Michael Frayn has created.
On a side note for all theaters, in addition to the cell phone message at the beginning, I’d recommend advising patrons to unwrap cough drops or candy prior to the show beginning. A reminder at intermission would be exceptional as wrapped goods are often sold. Personally, I find this very disruptive and it feels reminiscent of being in a movie theater rather than attending a live theatrical production.
Overall, I found Centerpoint Legacy’s production of Noises Off to be awfully entertaining. If you like a good old fashioned belly aching laugh and have not seen this show before – then I highly recommend checking out their production.