Theater Review: Civic’s ‘Noises Off’ gets the laughter on
Civic Theatre of Allentown’s production of “Noises Off,” through Feb. 24 at the 19th Street Theatre, Allentown, is a madcap romp through the clichés of farcical comedy and slapstick, with some very inventive twists.
In each of the three acts of “Noises Off,” cast members perform the first act of a play-within-the play, a sex farce titled “Nothing On.”
No chance to get bored, though. The audience views each Act One from a different perspective: onstage rehearsal, backstage shenanigans and on- and off-stage performance chaos.
Written by English playwright Michael Frayn, the script is based on his observation that a show he was once watching was “funnier from the back than in front. I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.”
The title came from a stage direction for sounds to be made offstage that are intended for the audience to hear.
In directing “Noises Off,” Civic Theatre Associate Artistic Director Will Morris took on a formidable task and hits the mark. He successfully guides the nine-member cast through the challenges of farce, including the requirements for broad characterizations, limitless energy and impeccable comedic timing. During the Feb. 9 performance seen for this review, Morris’ blocking and choreographing of the multitude of stage business was remarkable.
The backstage antics in the second act had to be exhausting for the actors, who have to make their entrances on stage to perform their roles in “Nothing On,” and then do the required backstage antics, most of which are non-verbal, requiring visual rather than vocal cues.
During the third act, the actors are back onstage, sort of, but everything that could go wrong does. What is most amazing throughout the play is how everyone can remember everything they have to do.
As an ensemble, the actors are so perfectly cast and their characters so fine-tuned that it is impossible to single out anyone for special recognition. Instead, all deserve to be mentioned by name and character:
Stephen Molloy, Play-Within-the-Play Director;
Rebecca Engborg, TV star Dotty Orley;
Amanda Murphy, assistant stage manager and understudy Poppy Norton-Taylor;
Frank Ruscitti, Selsdon Mowbray, burglar and elderly pro with a drinking problem;
Chris Egging, leading man Garry Lejeune-Roger Tramplemain;
Samantha Beedle, reliable actress Belinda Blair-Flavia;
Kristen Stachina, inexperienced actress Brooke Ashton-Vicki;
Doug Ace, stage manager Tim Allgood, and
Todd Rizzuto, well-meaning but dim-witted Frederick Fellowes-Phllip Brent.
Special mention should go to scenic designer Joshua Deruosi for the astounding three-piece, two-story set on wheels that is turned around in the second act so that the audience sees backstage while the onstage action plays out. Letting the audience watch while the transformation takes place adds to the entertainment. Another clever touch is strategically placing windows in the set so that part of the onstage action can be seen from the back.
Considered by some to be one of the greatest farces ever written, ”Noises Off” is loaded with tried and true comic devices, making it the perfect study in what makes people laugh. The Civic Theatre audience laughed at the pratfalls and when the actor fell down the stairs. It laughed when the director yelled at the cast, and when the stage suddenly became empty and totally quiet. It laughed when the blonde actress kept screaming. It laughed at the unexpected, the incongruous, the absurd.
What makes Frayn’s farce special, however, and what ultimately makes people laugh is the play’s ability to play off of the relationships and flaws of its characters, and to create what has been called “comic dissonance” between the actors’ onstage and their offstage personalities.
Tickets: Civic Theater of Allentown box office, 19th Street Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; civictheatre.com; 610-432-8943