Theater is hard. Why even try to do it? Actors forget their lines. Stage managers lose track of time. Directors fail to keep up with their, um, romantic entanglements. And “Noises Off” — a play about the difficulties of playing — is no exception. Pulling it all off with the down-to-the-second timing and mastery of physical comedy that the script requires is no small feat. One can only imagine the amount of work (and cat-fighting) that goes into such a production.
Clocking in at two hours and forty-five minutes (including two quarter-hour intermissions,) “Noises Off” may tempt some to nix the third act, but that would be a huge mistake, because the best is always yet to come. “Noises” starts off funny and only gets funnier. Think the air in the University Theater is uncomfortably warm? Wait. You’re about to wet your trousers.
The action starts with the entrance of Susie Kemple ’08, who plays Dottie, an aging actress ready to portray Cockneyed Mrs. Clackett in an English farce called “Nothing On,” which is directed by the frustrated, John Cleese-sound-alike Lloyd Dallas (played by Kobi Libii ’07). Dottie, despite her experience with such roles, is having trouble remembering her blocking on this, the night of the technical rehearsal.
But she’s not alone. All actors in “Nothing On” are in the midst of some crisis or other, including, but not limited to, a harried Garry Lejeune (Jamie Kirchick ’06,) a lens-losing Brooke Ashton (Sarah Minkus ’08) and a seldom-present, alcoholic Selsdon Mowbray (Josh Odsess-Rubin ’08).
It soon becomes clear that the real actors in “Noises Off” know what they’re doing, even if the characters they play don’t. Freshmen Alexandra Trow ’09 and Brian Earp ’09, playing optimistic Belinda and gentle Frederick, respectively, hold their own amongst a superb troupe of upperclassmen. The cast demonstrate their strengths as an ensemble of comedic actors during the second act when they capture the audience’s attention with few words and a ton of physical comedy.
A set composed of two floors, four doors each, looks simple, though building it must have been quite an endeavor, especially when in between acts it gets a complete turnaround. A big, red, comfy couch placed square in the middle of the stage adds color and comfort, plus a likely place on which to leave (or unfortunately find) a plate of sardines.
The simple, modern costumes add years and British stodginess to our thespians, except in the case of Minkus, who is mostly seen in her lacy undergarments. But then she isn’t the only one who exposes her inner linens. The only measurably distracting mishap regarding makeup is Selsdon’s heavily powdered hair, which expels a visible puff of “smoke” every time he removes his robber’s mask. Perhaps it is to be perceived as the same dust that gives his voice a strange, nursing home quality, but who can tell?
Understand that “Noises Off” is a great script written by Michael Frayn. The cast and crew of this week’s production succeed only at giving Frayn’s hilarious text a just performance, rather than creating something new or imaginative.
But that may actually be this production’s greatest strength. The actors apparently take their cues from the script and thereby flesh out characters bound to be funny, certain to entertain. Timing, once again, is crucial, and luckily the actors, with some rare exceptions, hit the nail on the head.
“Noises Off,” though, is a popular play, often performed by high school drama clubs. Dramat’s version is not guaranteed to be much different from anyone else’s, so encountering “Noises Off” for a second or third time may or may not be worth the trouble. It bears repeating: two hours, forty-five minutes. If you haven’t seen this show, however, and are in need of a good laugh, it might be worth it.
So why give it a chance anyway? A better question might be, according to the play, “Why does anyone do anything?”