Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play within a play is told over three acts and set across a couple of months as the action follows the company of Nothing On, a comedy that is touring across several cities in England. We first see the cast at their final rehearsal where it is very clear that they aren't quite ready for opening night. Act two depicts the hilarious action that unfolds backstage a month later, and then in act three we see how the entire cast and production have completely spiraled out of control toward the end of the tour as jealousy, romantic entanglements, and general laziness takes its toll.
Playwright Michael Frayn created a fun set-up and environment in which to explore these onstage and backstage antics. Frayn first shows us how one act of Nothing On plays out in rehearsal so we understand the inept nature of the plot of the play within the play. He then repeats that act twice, first backstage and then during a performance, and since we already understand what is supposed to happen during the Nothing On act we now can clearly see the devastating results that play out once the entire show has gone off the rails.
While I do believe that Noises Off is a fun comical farce, I'm not that crazy about the play itself, as the story has virtually no character development or major plot elements. You never really get to know the characters or truly understand what is going on with their relationships. Also, unlike a well-written farce like Lend Me a Tenor, where there is a lot at stake in the plot and the characters grow and learn from their mistakes, plus the farcical elements evolve naturally out of the plot, there isn't much reasoning for the farcical elements in Noises Off. It's a great backstage comedy, filled with some big laughs, but not much more.
That said, it does provide a great playground for gifted actors to show their comic chops. That is what is on display with this PVCC production. Under Gary Zaro's skilled direction, not only do the majority of the cast do well with the comic requirements of their characters, but they also do an exceptional job with the sheer backstage lunacy of act two, which has to be one of the most difficult acts to stage since every person in the cast must know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, both in the backstage craziness as well as the onstage action. The cast is composed of actors of varying degrees of experience, though the younger actors are successful in holding their own against the more seasoned stage veterans as well as in getting across the insanity of the piece. However, not all of the cast is up to the nuanced and precise requirements of the intricate choreographed staging and some of the accents are a little inconsistent though still fairly good.
PVCC's cast is led by a talented trio of actors who are exceptional in their efforts. Rick Davis is flawless as Garry, the frustrated, nervous actor who goes into a jealous rage in act two and also has to improvise elements of his performance when things go increasingly wrong in act three. Davis is both a gifted comic actor whose expressive eyes and well thought out gestures deliver plenty of laughs and a skilled physical actor whose pratfalls and other choreographed stage action seem completely natural. It is an all around superb performance.
Roger Alan Hunt II is Lloyd, the director, who starts off as the sarcastic, level-headed but impatient dictator and then quickly becomes an agitated, exasperated, and completely annoyed lunatic who vents his frustrations at his inept cast while he finds himself in the middle of a romantic triangle. Hunt is exceptional in displaying all of these elements and his accent is superb. As the continually confused actress Dotty, Virginia Olivieri is very good. She provides an assured performance throughout, does well with the two accents she usesone for Dotty and another for the character Dotty playsand infuses her scenes with a colorful vibrancy. Her act two encounter with Davis and an axe is simply hilarious and well staged by Zaro.
In smaller roles, Emile Trudeau is quite talented as Frederick, an actor who questions his character's motivations and is prone to nose bleeds, and Skylar Ryan has a few fun moments as Brooke, the beautiful but mostly untalented, empty headed actress. Jackie Anderson is good as Belinda, the actress who is the level-headed professional who tries to keep things together until she finds herself pulled into the craziness. Michaela Davison, Sean Lewis, and Gustavo Flores round out the cast and all get a moment or two to add to the zaniness. However, some of the supporting cast members need to watch their British accents to ensure they don't slowly creep into sounding like Americans, and they need to keep their energy level and timing in check and on point.
Erik H. Reid has crafted a very good two-story, two-sided set design that allows plenty of room for the cast to let the lunacy unfold. Jessica Florez's costumes are vibrant and character appropriate.
While I may have some issues with the play itself, Noises Off still has plenty of laughs, several humorous moments and colorful, though mostly two dimensional characters. It's clearly an audience favorite as this is the first of three productions to play in the Phoenix area this month. PVCC's production, while it has a few small hiccups, is well paced with good direction and a cast, led by a superb Rick Davis, that does a good job with the classic, door slammin', energetic, and very funny farce.
The Paradise Valley Community College production of Noises Off runs through October 9th, 2016, at the PVCC Center for the Performing Arts, 18401 North 32nd Street in Phoenix. Tickets and information can be found at paradisevalley.edu/cpa or by calling 602-787-7738.
Written by Michael Frayn
Cast: (in order of appearance)