Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
We actually get to see the first act of Nothing On performed three times. First is during an interminable final dress rehearsal just hours before opening night. Second, a few weeks into the tour with the cracks beginning to show, the audience gets to watch the zany action from backstage. A third performance takes place near the end of the run and is a hilariously epic disaster. The show must go on, so the cast and crew soldier through broken hearts, missing props, and multiple injuries. It is remarkable to watch these "backstage" dramas play out while the cast never misses a beat of the "onstage" action.
Philadelphia treasure Mary Martello leads the first-rate cast as washed up star Dotty Otley. Exuberant or enraged, Martello is a comic force to be reckoned with. Ben Dibble is terminally flustered as the charmingly British Garry Lejeune. Dibble's fall down the stairs is the stuff of legend, but every member of the cast embraces the raucous physical comedy. Daniel Fredrick gets big laughs with little more than a raised eye brow as the overworked and underappreciated stage manager Tim Allgood. A perpetually exasperated Greg Wood is hilarious in the role of the director of Nothing On, but it is hard to laugh at his character's lighthearted womanizing. The same goes for some of the stupid-blonde humor underlying Alanna J. Smith's role, beautiful but terrible actress Brooke Ashton. Fortunately, Smith is able to move beyond the more dated humor by offering up a Brooke who is more silly than stupid. Whether she is crawling down the stairs to find a contact lens or jauntily skipping out the door in her unmentionables, Smith's over the top physical comedy is impressive.
Noises Off has enjoyed three Broadway runs since its London premier in 1982, countless productions in regional theaters on both sides of the Atlantic, and a film version starring Carol Burnett and Michael Caine. The obviously dated stock characters and themes could be a chance for some original creative interpretation. What if the cast had a strong negative reaction to Lloyd's philandering? Or Brooke was reading Schopenhauer backstage? Anzalone lets this opportunity pass, sticking with a straightforward interpretation of this much loved farce. Given how much the audience was laughing, it is hard to blame him for making the safer choice.
Noises Off, through April 29th, 2018, on the Walnut Street Theatre's Mainstage, 825 Walnut Street Philadelphia PA. For tickets call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org or ticketmaster.