REVIEW: In Michael Frayn's fast-moving, door-slamming farce, actors are seen both backstage and onstage.
I kept waiting for Joel Sass's staging of "Noises Off" to take me away. It never did.
Instead, as I watched the Michael Frayn farce at Minneapolis' Jungle Theater, where it opened over the weekend, I kept thinking of a Rube Goldberg contraption. The production offers some well-timed plunks and plops and drops. There are some cheap laughs as the cast opens and slams doors in entrances and exits and runs up and down stairs. The cast has mastered much of the timing that is so key to the success of a farce.
The ensemble does some commendable work. Summer Hagen is fearless as ditzy sexpot Brooke Ashton, a character who must parade around in a bathing suit for the show's three acts. Still, both this cast and this production are finding their way.
"Noises" is Frayn's inside-theater play about an inept British troupe that is putting on a sex comedy called "Nothing On." The troupe within the play includes an overbearing director, Lloyd Dallas (E.J. Subkoviak), a memory-challenged actress named Dotty (Cheryl Willis), a falling-down drunk (Stephen D'Ambrose) and a shy, nerdy stage manager, Poppy (Kimberly Richardson). All are pretty pathetic as characters (but terrifically portrayed by the actors). Their lives all get complicated, and provide the sources of our laughs, when troupe members find out who has been entangled with whom, and how.
Frayn orbits the first act of "Nothing On" for all three acts of "Noises Off." In the first act, we see a rehearsal leading up to opening night. In the second, we see a performance from backstage as the lives of the characters intersect with those of their play-within-play characters. In the third act, we see the production near the end of its run, when things have gone to pot.
If Sass's staging does not always grab me by the seat of the pants, it is because of timing and casting. When it's working, the production is tightly wound and everything clicks. At other times, it drags, and you can see the thinking of both actors and director. This on/off quality is supposed to peel back the workings of the theater for laughs. Instead, it slows down the production that should be a tour-de-farce.
This "Noises" is a fair farce that is sometimes on.
Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohanpreston
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