Noises Off, Michael Frayn's gloriously biting ode to the joys of backstage life, is undoubtedly one of the funniest comedies of the last 20 years. Dealing with the travails of a third-rate British touring company as they struggle to produce a fourth-rate British sex-farce, Frayn's comedy is one long howl from beginning to end, its infamous second act a tour de force of brilliantly inventive comic writing and staging.
With each successive act, Frayn takes us from a terrifying dress rehearsal of a the first act of a dreadful comedy, through that same scene a month on, backstage during a matinee performance as the cast's personal problems begin to take over, and finally ending onstage two months later, when the company has completely unravelled and the production is an incoherent shambles.
The original London production, as well as subsequent New York edition, became justly famous for Michael Blakemore's athletic marathon staging, a marvel of split-second timing and breathless action that wore out ensemble members with alarming frequency. Any company attempting this granddaddy of all farces has their work cut out for them, for they are not only competing with the legends of the original productions, they are dealing with a show whose basic needs are monstrous enough to scare even the smartest and most fearless of directors and casts out of their wits.
Happily, the OOBR Award-winning Gallery Players have delivered a flawless production. Director Mark Harborth put his cast through their dizzying paces with cheek firmly in jowl; every performance is fresh and funny; the staging is as marvelous, breathtaking, and perfectly timed as the London and New York originals; and the evening is, as it should be, painfully funny. Especially that incredible second act, a model of synchronized brilliance. Kudos to every actor in the cast, a true ensemble if ever there was one. Janet Dunson, Ellie Dvorkin, William Franken, Ed Fusco, Nicholas Henry, Christi Kelsey, Chance Pinnell, Joe Rux, and Sue Glausen Smith were all grand, making the supremely difficult material seem effortless and easy, uniting their distinctive individual sparkles into one huge fireworks display that should have Macy's taking notes.
Gallery did not stint on the production, either. Todd M. Reemstma's seven-door, multilevel set was perfect, and was beautifully lighted by Joseph Kentspeth (especially in the second act, when everything was clearly seen from the semi-darkness of a backstage perspective). Allen Hale's costumes were also right on, and special congratulations to Johanna Neufeld, who must have reeled when she saw the amount of props she was required to acquire.
Do not miss Noises Off: it is a joyous, frenetic, dazzling delight that will entertain all but the most sour individuals. Please, Gallery, do what you can to extend or revive! It was just too good a production for such a limited run!
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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita