Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
This play was inspired by Michael Frayn watching Lynn Redgrave perform in a farce he had written, realizing that what was going on back stage and in the wings was funnier than what the audience was seeing. Noises Off is the story of a group of actors preparing for and acting in a dress rehearsal for a farce called Nothing On in act one. Act two takes place backstage during a mid-run performance of the play, and act three returns us out front for the final performance of a long tour. All of this is high farce, with mistaken identity and door-slamming galore, and is best played with surgical precision, although that is really difficult with the chaos on stage in the play within the play. Asolo Rep fields a very strong cast and most of the hilarity embedded in Frayn's classic script from 1982 comes shining through.
Christianne Tisdale has the leading comic role of Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clackett. In a program for Nothing On included in the program for Noises Off, we learn that Dotty has been a regular comic personality on the telly for many years, making a return to the stage. Her stage skills have taken a beating in the meantime, and she can't quite coordinate movement with other physical business. A plate of sardines is her inviolate enemy and the butt of much humor. Ms. Tisdale's physical performance is top notch, just what this play requires.
Coburn Goss is Lloyd Dallas, attempting to be the calm in the storm of crazy. He spends a great deal of time at the back of the actual auditorium of The Mertz Theatre, and the speed with which he approaches the stage tells a lot about his disintegrating patience.
Four members of the graduating class at Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training play important roles in this production, each of them playing comedy with assurance. Andrew Hardaway as Garry Lejeune/Roger, Katie Sah as Brooke Ashton/VIcki, Dylan Crow as Frederick Fellowes/Philip, and Scott Shomaker as stage manager Tim prove that the class of 2019 is one of the strongest in recent memory.
Kate Hampton is stiff necked and haughty in her role. Although I have never seen her in comedy before this, she seems a natural. Steve Hendrickson plays over the hill/on and off the wagon actor Selsdon Mowbray, who plays the Burglar in the play within the play. I kept imagining him as Mortimer, who dies in The Fantasticks. Laura Rook as assistant stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor, who is hilariously moody, is very different from anything she has played at Asolo over the last two seasons.
Director Don Stephenson, whom I am more familiar with from his acting/singing performances, does an excellent job blending all the fine individual performances into a creditable ensemble, critical in this type of farce. The production benefits from the always high quality of Asolo Rep's technical resources. Michael Schweikardt's rotating set drew a few gasps from the audience I shared the theater with when it rotated in full view as act two's backstage to act three's onstage. Tracy Christensen's costumes are spot on, and Stephen Terry does a fine job lighting it all. Patricia Delorey, voice and dialect coach oversees the accents, which are decent, and as always Michelle Hart's hair/wig and makeup design is a major plus.
Noises Off is never intended to be more than entertaining, with no deep, thoughtful subtext to enlighten or educate. In Asolo Rep's lively production, it sure is a lot of fun.
Noises Off, through April 2, 2019, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):