Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The plot involves a third-rate English theatre company preparing for a production of a badly penned sex farce called Nothing On that will tour in "the provinces" with a cast of actors who include a middle-aged ex-TV star on the way down and a scantily-clad wannabe starlet believing she's on the way up. We see the company play the first act of Nothing On three times: during the disastrous technical rehearsal, backstage during a performance a month later, and during a performance at the end of the run when everything just falls apart. It involves dozens of slamming doors, ludicrous plot twists featuring things like tax evasion, and countless plates of sardines. It's a sex play on steroids.
The wonder of the play rests squarely in the second act, set backstage during the performance of Nothing On. What makes it so English is that there's a tendency to suppress strong emotion and "keep calm and carry on." As everything goes increasing wrong in the play-within-the-play, the company stalwartly keeps going and tries, against mounting odds, to hold their cool.
Director Susi Damilano excels as a conductor of mayhem, weaving her way through the whims, desires, and requirements of the characters. The nine-member cast offer total commitment to the vocal and physical action, such as pratfalls, props tossed from one level of backstage to another, and those plates of sardines that feature in the plot.
Kimberley Richards, Johnny Moreno, Patrick Russell, Monique Hafen, Monica Ho, Nanci Zoppi, Craig Marker, Greg Ayers, and Richard Louis James give outstanding and hilarious performances with expert timing. Monique Hafen as the wannabe starlet gives splendid wooden-chirpy readings; Craig Marker gives his impression of a not too bright actor; Patrick Russell give his impression of an actor with an ego somehow falling down the stairs of the two story set; Nanci Zoppi as Belinda maintains her cool throughout the process until the end of the second scene; Kimberly Richards gives a terrific performance Dotty; Richard Louis James plays a veteran actor who has seen better days; Johnny Moreno is the put-upon harried director; Monica Ho maintains her cool to a point as the assistant stage manager; and Greg Ayers plays the timid, uptight understudy/stagehand.
George Maxwell has designed a detailed two-story set that reminds me of the farces I saw in London, and the backstage set is complete in every detail. Mark Hueske Thomas' lighting, Cliff Caruthers' sound design and Abra Berman's costumes are spot on.
Bottom Line: This is a damn funny play and I laughed my ass off.
Noises Off runs through May 13th, 2017, at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco, Second floor of the Kensington Park Hotel. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or visit www.sfplayhouse.org. Their next production is Jen Silverman's The Roommate which begins May 23rd.