By Karen Isaacs
Timing is everything with farce and the cast of Noises Off now at the Connecticut Repertory Theater in Storrs through June 26 has it down pat.
Credit must be given to director Vincent J. Cardinal who has molded his cast of seasoned professionals and aspiring ones into a well-oiled machine. He has also added some creative directorial touches.
The show moves quickly and the laughter keeps on coming.
Noises Off is a backstage farce written by Michael Frayn. A group of actors are rehearsing “Nothing On” a typical British farce that involves many doors (8), props (particularly a plate of sardines) and too many people coming and going and trying not to be seen by others. The show is to tour for a few months.
Dotty Otley is the actress behind the tour; she hopes makes some money and cash in on some measure of fame. Act one takes place at the final rehearsal before the opening. The actors
So let’s see what is going on. Lloyd, the director, is apparently having affairs with both the assistant stage manager, Poppy, and Brooke Ashton, a very voluptuous young actress, though her acting skills are negligible. Dotty, the leading lady, is having an affair with Garry Lejune, an actor in the company who is substantially younger than Dotty. Then there is Selsdon Mowbray, an elderly actor known to drink who has a minor role and appears to be hard of hearing. Dotty has encouraged Lloyd to give Selsdon a role. Rounding out the group is Belinda, an actress who seems to know all about the various relationships among the cast, Tim Allgood, the stage manager, and Frederick Fellowes, an actor whose wife has just left him.
Act one sets this all up; we see parts of the first act of the play which is not going at all smoothly in the technical rehearsal (the rehearsal aimed at smoothing out entrances, exits, lights, the set, props, etc.) Doors don’t open or shut properly, Dotty has trouble remembering which props to enter or exit with, etc. Tim has been awake for 48 hours putting up the set and is dead on his feet. Adding to Lloyd’s exasperation is that Garry starts questioning the motivation for carrying a box off-stage in an extremely inarticulate way, Brooke stops the action frequently when she loses a contact lens, and Frederick also stops the rehearsal for inane reasons, but always apologetically
Act two shows us backstage during a performance a month later. Lloyd is making a surprise visit to see Brooke who is threatening to leave the cast, Poppy has some important news to share with Lloyd, and Dotty is locked in her dressing room because Garry thinks she is cheating on him when in reality she had been trying to cheer up Frederick. Plus they all think Selsden is drinking again. Due to all of this, various sabotages occur that make the on-stage performances (which we don’t see) even less comprehensible.
The shorter third act, shows the closing performance, where all pretense of doing the play seems to have disappeared. The cast and plot are in shambles.
First of all, Tim Brown has created a terrific set of both the stage and the backstage. It has the English country house look and feel.
Then we can look at the cast. While initially I had a few negative thoughts – that Jennifer Cody looked too young for Dotty Otley as did Gavin McNicholl as Frederick Fellowes, the actor whose wife has just left him, and I was unsure about the long hair of Curtis Longfellow as Garry, within minutes my uncertainties evaporated.
This troupe of actors were all terrific. Each one creates a real person both as the actor and as the character the actor is playing on stage. The four Equity performers – John Bixler as the director Lloyd, Jennifer Cody as Dotty, Steve Hayes as Selsdon and Michael Doherty as the stage manager, Tim are great. Each achieves every laugh that is built into the script. But the others – all young aspiring performers are also good. It’s hard to single out just one. Curtis Longfellow plays the inarticulate and jealous Garry to perfection. Jayne Ng is terrific as the dim Brooke while Gavin McNicholl is a slightly woe-begone Frederck. Arlen Bozich brings out the motherly aspects of Belinda and Grace Allyn is down-to-earth as Poppy. She clearly lets you see her infatuation with Lloyd.
Cardinal has directed most of the second act – the backstage part – as mime. The actors mouth words but don’t speak loudly which is necessary backstage; plus you can clearly hear the play going on out front. He is assisted in making this work by a window in the set which allows us to see the actors (and the lighting) of parts of the actual performance.
If you enjoy farce, and want to see it well done, make the trip to the Connecticut Repertory Theater. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit crt.uconn.edu.