Regional Reviews: San Francisco
San Jose Repertory presents a frenzied delightful production of Noises Off
Also see Richard's review of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinco
San Jose Repertory Theatre's 24th season leads off with Michael Frayn's hilarious backstage farce Noises Off, a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse. Every regional company in the English speaking world has done this farce since it first appeared on the Savoy Theater stage in London in 1982, and I was privileged to be at the opening night to see Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington, Nicky Henson and others perform in the debut production. The American premiere took place on December 2, 1983 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with Victor Garber, Dorothy Loudon and Brian Murray where it ran 553 performances. The most recent revival on Broadway was in 2001 at the same theater with Peter Gallagher, Patti LuPone and Faith Prince in the cast. This marks the fifth time I have seen this zany and fast paced comedy.
Noises Off is probably one of the funniest farces ever written about the theatre. Michael Frayn's travesty has often been compared favorable to the work of Georges Feydeau. It is also one of the brainiest, with its farce about a farce or what could be calle a "mega-farce." The playwright has written a superb piece and the timing and comic acting of the San Jose Rep ensemble is brilliant. The audience experiences a wild and bumpy ride with ax attacks, pratfalls on sardine-slicked floors, some scenery that does not work, and even one of the actors doing a full body tumble down a flight of stars.
Generally, American actors can have problems with farcical acting, which needs precise timing to work. It also needs actors who are seriously speaking the lines when these accidents occur. This cast plunges through the show's polyrhythmic choreography with meticulousness. This is one of the best and tightest productions of the play that I have seen.
The script is about a second rate British touring company putting on a plotless bedroom farce titled Nothing On, and during the three acts we get to see the same play three times yet no two versions are alike. The first act is the final dress/technical rehearsal where the cast stops and starts making mistakes. The misplacing of the sardines on a plate is hilarious. The second act takes place one month later in back of the set where there is complete mayhem because of jealousies, illicit love triangles, tantrums and flying whiskey bottles. Very little dialogue goes on here, but there are so many things happening during this scene that it is hard to comprehend it all.
Act three is set during the last leg of the tour. Once again, the set has been turned around so you get a full view of the two level British cottage. Everything falls apart with some of the trysts that have occurred during the tour spilling out onto the stage. The play is a complete shambles. This production has the revised ending that involves three burglars rather than sheiks coming in at the finale.
Director Richard Seyd has wisely cast the best and most talented actors in the Bay Area for this production. There is not a weak performance in the ensemble. The running in and out of many doors on both levels is truly amazing. The characters each have his/her own separate personality, and their interactions with each other are marvelous. Jane Carr wonderfully plays Dotty, who is a television B-level actress (probably in a series like EastEnders) and is financing the show yet can't remember her lines or where to put the props. Ben Livingston is perfect as the kind of actor who is very insecure and can't complete a thought when he tries to go out of character. He is "kind of, you know."
Dan Hiatt is a riot as Frederick, an accident waiting to happen. He plays the dimwitted actor who is always apologizing for his mistakes. Jamie Day plays the myopic sexpot Brooks Ashton, a dumb blonde bimbo who does not have the vaguest idea of what is going on off or on stage. Maura Vincent as Belinda and Ali Taylor as the exhausted stage manager Poppy are convincing in their roles. Adrian Neil as the harried director trying to carry on two separate love affairs is a proper egomanic and he plays the role to the hilt. Edward Sarafian, one of the best character actors in the Bay Area, is marvelous as deaf old alcoholic actor Selsdon who has played every role in his 60 years of theater. Sarafian's timing is impeccable. Liam Vincent, as another wretched stage manager who is forced to play various roles in the play within the play, is comically entertaining. His banter is right on the mark.
The ingenious two tiered set is marvelous with its multiple doors on the second tier. It is also amazing that for the second act, just two stagehands manage to turn the complete detailed set around in a short amount of time to show the back for the next act. The front of the set is then turned back around for the third and final act. It is sheer genius on the part of John Iacovelli as set designer and his two stagehands. Beaver Bauer has designed some excellent costumes that are reminiscent of a midland touring company in the UK. Richard Seyd, who so successfully directed this farce for the Marin Theatre Company in 1988 that it was moved to the Marines Memorial Theatre for a long triumphant run, has done it again with this production.
Noises Off runs thru October 5 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paeso de San Antonio, San Jose, Ca For tickets call 408-367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com.
Their next production is the United States premiere of Mary's Wedding, opening on October 18.