Play: Noises Off
Group: Clayton Community Theatre
Venue: Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
Dates: March 25, 26, 27, 28
Tickets: From $10 to $15; contact 314-721-9228 or www.brownpapertickets.com
Story: A touring British theatrical troupe is rehearsing a new play titled Nothing On, a sex farce that they are taking on the road for performances in a series of towns. With just one day left before opening night, though, they are far from ready for the bright lights. Lloyd, the demanding director, is involved in a fling with a ditzy young actress named Vicki, who is playing the role of Brooke, a revenue agent vying for the affections of a realtor named Roger. The realtor, portrayed by a stuttering sort named Garry, invites Vicki to the home of wealthy Phillip Brent, who supposedly is away on vacation with his wife Flavia. When Roger and Vicki enter the house, however, they are greeted by the Brents’ housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett, who has a penchant for finding and losing plates of sardines.
Mrs. Clackett is played by Dotty Ottley, while the Brents are essayed by Frederick Dallas, who has recently been dumped by his wife and responds to stress with a bloody nose, and the genial Belinda Blair, who is kindly disposed to Frederick. When the Brents arrive home unexpectedly, and an aging burglar (played by alcoholic thespian Selsdon Mowbray) invades the premises, chaos among the six characters on stage ensues. Meanwhile, Lloyd is involved in a love triangle with Brooke and Poppy, the assistant stage manager. Trying to make sense of everything, mostly unsuccessfully, is stage manager Tim, as off-stage relationships deteriorate and on-stage performers stagger and stumble.
Highlights: Based on playwright Michael Frayn’s observations of a real theatrical performance and what ensued off-stage, Frayn’s 1982 comedy is one of the great farces of the 20th century. Set in three acts that depict on-stage actions in the first and third stanzas and behind-scenes antics in the second act, the show is fodder for tear-inducing laughs and slapstick hilarity.
Director Tim Kelly does a reasonably good job leading the Clayton Community Theatre cast through this difficult but richly rewarding show, and doubles most impressively as the designer of the two-story, movable set that depicts the handsome Brent estate in two acts, sandwiched around the functional, back-stage area utilized in Act Two. It comes complete with eight (count ‘em) doors and a large, first-story window, allowing amply for the requisite comic entrances and exits on which farces vitally depend.
Other Info: Pacing is crucial to farce, as nothing deadens its impact more than slow developments that cut into the madcap antics and mayhem on stage. Kelly’s production suffers from halting moments a bit too often in the first act with hesitancies among some performers, but picks up noticeably in the last two sections, resulting in a delightfully good time.
While everyone does well in the effort, special nods go to Chrissy Young, Ed Cole and Tom Bell. Young shines as the vapid Brooke, who soldiers on intrepidly with her lines regardless of how circumstances change around her on-stage, or wanders aimlessly when periodically losing one of her contact lenses. It’s an engaging performance she maintains with expert, precious consistency.
Cole shows impressive physical schtick in some pratfalls on the set’s precarious stairs and solid comic timing with Garry’s inability to articulate what exactly is on his mind, while Bell is priceless as the forgetful and hard-of-hearing Selsdon, who is more determined to find any bottles of booze stashed away than his part as the once-grand but now petty thief.
Jack Abels displays an entertaining ability to garner laughs in his Jolly Roger undershorts and his physical antics of bloody noses, falling pants and avoiding attacks by the jealous Garry. Reynard Fox has a grand time as the belligerent Lloyd, although his lines seem a bit rushed on occasion, while Jeffrey Berkbigler and Kellie Honey are fitfully amusing as the harried stage manager Tim and his overwhelmed assistant Poppy. Jadienne Nolan has many amusing moments as the indifferent Dotty, alias Mrs. Clackett, who has her own problems remembering lines and forgetting props, and Tracy Murphy offers consistent support as Belinda, the seemingly most normal member of this crazed collection of artists.
Sonia Beard’s costumes add humor to the proceedings, particularly with the on-stage looks of dowdy Mrs. Clackett, sexy Vicki and the addled Selsdon, Nathan Schroeder provides the satisfactory lighting and Bell adds several amusing elements to the sound design.
Cutting five to 10 minutes out of this production will make it tighter and even funnier, but even so the abundance of sound for this Noises Off emanates from laughs in the audience.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.