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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Frenzied Production of Noises Off

Also see Richard's reviews of The Sisters Rosensweig and Franc D'Ambrosio's Broadway

The Willows Theatre has found a gold mine in presenting Michael Frayn's hysterical British farce Noises Off.  This marks the third time they have presented the on and off stage shenanigans of a provincial British company touring the provinces of the United Kingdom.  The company is using some of the same actors seen in prior Willows productions of this show

Time Out New York called Noises Off "the funniest comedy ever."  I won't go that far, but it is one of the funniest plays of the late 20th century. I first saw the production at the Savoy Theatre in London in 1982 with Patricia Routledge, Paul Eddington and Nicky Henson. The American premiere occurred one year later at the Brooks Atkinson with Victor Garber, Dorothy Loudon and Brian Murray; it ran for 553 performances.  There was an excellent revival on Broadway in 2001 with Patti LuPone, Faith Prince and Peter Gallagher.  Touchstone Pictures also put it on film with Peter Bogdanovich directing Carol Burnett and Michael Caine.  Unfortunately, it did not transfer well to film. The San Jose Repertory Company did a superb production several years, with the same cast performing at the Pasadena Playhouse. Noises Off has become a standard in community and semi-professional theatre since you really have to work hard at doing the show badly to keep the audience going home happy.

Noise's Off is two plays working simultaneously: a traditional British bedroom farce called Nothing On and the backstage travesty that develops during the final rehearsal and tour.   These two interlock, particularly in the second act when the characters make their exits from Nothing On to find themselves entering into an even worse nightmare going on backstage.  The third and final act is a real hoot with a disastrous final performance on Stockton-on-Tees.   

Richard Elliott's staging is right on the mark with expert timing of the characters going on and off stage at a frantic pace.  He has assembled a group of wonderful comic actors headed by Sue Trigg, who has played the role of the maid with the sardines several times at the Willows.  Ms. Trigg is a native of England and looks and acts like a provincial player and is perfect in the role; herrr timing is impeccable.

Cassidy Brown (Deathtrap, Cabaret at Shotgun) holds his own as the handsome actor Garry Lejeune who cannot complete his sentences without saying "you know what I mean."  Julian Lopez-Morillas (one of leading actors of Marin Shakespeare Festival last summer) is splendid as the exasperated director Lloyd Dallas.  He has some of the best lines and delivers them hilariously in the first act.

Brittany Ogle (A Chorus Line at AMT) is entertaining as the blowzy ingénue Brooke Ashton who continues to lose her contact lens. She flounces recklessly up and down the stairs of the two-story set with great abandon. Chris Ayles (veteran Bay Area actor) gives an inspired performance as the doddering Selsdon Mowbray who likes his liquor a little too much.  Simon Vance (Treasure Island, Joyful Noise and 1776) is a delight as Frederick Fellows, a twit who unintentionally makes trouble among the characters. Holli Hornlein (The Women) gives a stylish performance as Belinda Blair, and her timing is spotless.

Kate Anderson (Our Country's Good) is very good as the put-upon stagehand Poppy. John Butterfield (recently returned from New Zealand where he has been directing plays) plays the dazed stagehand Tim with a funny blankness of not knowing what he is suppose to be doing.

Tom Benson has designed a two-story set with many doors, very reminiscent of the sets of those British sex farces seen in the U.K.  In the second act when the set is turned around, it is a perfect replica of the back of the set.  Melissa Torchia's costumes are typical for a British provincial tour. Lighting and Sound Design by Chris Chestnut are very good.  Richard Elliott has directed a bang up production.

Noises Off runs through May 7th at the Willows Theatre, 1975 Diamond Boulevard, Concord.   For tickets please call 925-798-1300 or visit www.willowstheatre.org.

Their next production is 1776, opening May 22nd and running through July 16th.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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