Lakewood Playhouse’s 77th season is approaching its end. After the austere and weighty production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” the playhouse is following up with the farcical, slapstick comedy “Noises Off!” (the musical “Avenue Q” will bring the season to a close in June).
Written in 1982 by British playwright Michael Frayn, “Noises Off!” was inspired by the writer’s observation that the action behind the scenes of a play is sometimes more amusing than that taking place onstage. “Noises” is thus a play within a play. The first act of a fictitious play called “Nothing On” is presented at three different points in time: the last night of rehearsal, a matinee showing a month later and a performance near the end on the show’s 10-week run.
During this span, the cast of the fictional play becomes enmeshed in a web of romantic relationships that deteriorate into jealousies and grievances. With the characters at each others’ throats, they nevertheless try to soldier on with their performances but become less able to so as their emotions get the better of them.
The Lakewood Playhouse production, directed by the great John Munn (who is also the managing artistic director of the theatrical organization), is well crafted both physically and artistically. The comedy is so well paced that the audience is moved to bursts of laughter at regular intervals throughout the show.
Larry Hagerman, set designer and carpenter extraordinaire, and his band of merry woodworkers did a marvelous job with the construction of a large façade consisting of two levels equipped with six doors and a window. Through doors and windows the characters come and go in various states of undress; often bearing plates piled with sardines. These little, oily fishes are a constant concern of the characters as they cavort, contort and resort to violence during the convoluted course of the evening’s entertainment.
For the second act, the great stage prop is spun around so that the Lakewood Playhouse audience is privy to the behind-the-scenes antics. Here, the characters must remain silent so as not to disturb the performance out front. Their angers, jealousies and heartbreaks must be exercised in silence – a condition pregnant with comedic content.
For the third act, the façade is swung back around so that the audience may now observe a totally broken-down version of the fictional show. It all sounds convoluted, but the production is so well constructed that it is easy to follow the delightful course of the entire madcap affair.
The whole cast is great in playing the dual roles of actors acting in their play. The physical, slapstick humor is also carefully choreographed so that it flows seamlessly along.
Jonathan Bill plays the director Lloyd, who seems like the voice of reason but is actually as caught up in the network of problematic relationships as any of the other characters. Ana Bury plays the competent yet flustered Poppy, a stage manager. Gary Chambers is great as the flaky, ponytail-wearing Garry, who tries to make insightful statements only to have them end with an ambiguous “you know…”
Jennifer Davy, as Brooke, spends at least half of the show in her underwear. Brooke is often either lost in her daydreams of has lost a contact lens. When the latter occurs, everyone slows down and has to tiptoe until the delicate item can be located (a feature that dates the play since the age of inexpensive, disposable contacts no longer causes such a ruckus.) Dotty, with an overly exaggerated cockney accent is played by Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson and Nick Fitzgerald plays Tim, the stage manager that doggedly does his part and is the only character free of relationship entanglements. Diana George is cast as the cool and collected Belinda, while Jim Rogers handles the role of Frederick, the delicate actor who is prone to getting nosebleeds when a situation gets slightly stressful.
Finally there is Steve Tarry as the aged actor Selsdon, who is evidently an alcoholic and must be kept from slipping away lest he find his way to the nippy sauce. Several sequences of the comedy involve a bottle of whiskey that gets passed from character to character as they try to keep it out of Selsdon’s hands.
“Noises Off!” is sure to elicit the elixir of laughter from even the soggiest of audiences. The show runs through May 8 with performances Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Thursday April 28 is a “Pay What You Will” actor’s benefit show.
On May 14, Lakewood Playhouse is hosting a fundraiser party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Lakewood Playhouse Theater. The event will include a celebrity roast of Munn on the occasion of his 50th birthday and his fifth year as artistic director of the theater. For further information on “Noises Off!” and other events visit www.lakewoodplayhouse.org.