Also see Fred's review of Death of a Salesman
A play-within-a-play, Noises Off centers upon a British ensemble theater company readying itself for a production of ludicrous sex romp, Nothing On. Patrons attending Hartford Stage are greeted with a program advertising, on the cover, the latter. Unsuspecting souls might be a tad confused.
Tony Straiges' excellent set first brings us to the Brents' country home, complete with many exits and entrances, an upper deck ... Here, the obviously third or fourth rate company of performers are attempting to rally during a final dress rehearsal. The director, Lloyd Dallas (Bill Kux), initially instructs while standing amid Hartford Stage house seats.
Dallas has, before him, an impossible task. While there really isn't a center to the play, Brooke Ashton/Vicki (Liv Rooth) commands visual attention since she wears, almost throughout, a bright aqua bra and panties, set off by a white lace garter. Stereotypical, blonde, and ditsy, she has, time and again, a problem caused by the loss of a contact lens. This lends to further disarray as everyone must search the floor. Even when she has her vision, Brooke is imperceptive and downright bad about taking direction. Naturally, she is one third of a love triangle.
Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clacket (Johanna Morrison) is involved with Garry Lejeune (Michael Bakkensen). As a housekeeper, Morrison has a time of it with sardines. Bakkensen also covers Roger Tramplemain, involved in real estate. David Andrew MacDonald plays Frederick Fellowes/Philip Brent. Fred has a propensity for nosebleeds. He tends to fault himself when things go astray and often finds that his pants have fallen to his ankles.
Belinda Blair (Andrea Cirie) likes Fred and, in comparison to those running about her, seems stable. Oftentimes on the bottle and otherwise difficult to find, Selsdon Mowbray (Noble Shropshire) might pass out at any moment.
Two students from the nearby Hartt School at the University of Hartford blend in well with the Equity actors. Daniel Toot plays Tim Allgood who is a stage manager in chase of almost everyone. Veronique Hurley is quite a hoot as Poppy Norton-Taylor, the assistant stage manager who also finds herself a bit envious of the woman she understudies, Brooke.
The second act of the play, as the stage revolves, takes everyone backstage where romances (never destined to be realized) are evident. The action then shifts back to the performance and the living room of the country home. The comedy-within-a-comedy is pretty much of a disaster.
Noises Off is cathartic, silly, at times clever and always fun. Some of the gags and lines are familiar, and doors smack open and shut time and again. When this production begins to roll, so do those watching. Laughter is nothing if not positively infectious. The play is not profound, dense, thematic or bitter. It is zany. Noises Off is also something of a bedroom farce, which bids uninhibited acting, and this talented cast is up to it. Each performer is fresh, animated and pushing with great energy. Nothing timid here but quite loony, with sight gags galore.
Malcolm Morrison directs, and he deserves a great deal of praise. The actors may appear to be flying all over the place willy-nilly but this actually requires specificity and detail. Costumer Ilona Somogyi wisely goes with bright colors which are entirely suitable and eye-catching.
Noises Off continues at Hartford Stage through May 17th. For tickets, call the box office at (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol