Backstage Mayhem Spills Onstage as Hilarious Chaos in Reimagined ‘Noises Off!’

Playwright Michael Frayn’s comedy Noises Off! is widely regarded as the funniest farce ever written for the stage. I am inclined to agree. It’s a personal favorite of mine.

It was first produced in 1982 in London’s West End and made its premier on Broadway in 1983. The original Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards. It won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance.

As written, the story is a play within a play that depicts the trials and tribulations of a touring English theatrical production. Their play, Nothing On, is being financed by its headliner, Dottie Otley a fading comedic television star looking to cash in on her fame while she still can.

The remaining players range in talent from terrible to somewhat okay, which has to be a fun challenge for the very talented real-life actors playing the bad actors for our enjoyment in Theatre 121’s production running through March 13 at the Woodstock Opera House.  

At the helm of this mess is Lloyd Dallas, a temperamental but respected director whose silver hair and sophisticated charm sparks feelings from younger girls with daddy issues.

As can happen in close quarters such as when a theatrical troupe puts on a traveling show, the actors find themselves growing annoyed with each other over personality quirks, egos, insecurities, and miscommunication. This plays out in backstage chaos that eventually spills out onto the stage.

For this new mounting, co-directors Thomas Neumann and Jordan Rakittke have played with the characters a bit. Most notably they are all American actors and backstage crew who have been brought to England for this production, except for the character of Selsdon who is native to the U.K. Director Lloyd Dallas in this rendition is also British.

Dean Gallagher is very charismatic as director Lloyd. He masterfully navigates the waters of growing frustration as his creation falls apart. His desperate attempts to save the sinking ship are noble, if not well thought out.

Rebecca Gallagher is far younger than most actresses cast in the role of Dottie, but she makes it work. It’s a fun interpretation. Gallagher is an impressive actress who has full command of the role and is a delight to watch perform.

Dottie’s offstage boyfriend/onstage co-star Garry Lejeune is brought to life by gifted actor Jake Seelye who always brings a great deal of physicality to his humor. He has a very expressive face that reads to the back of the house.

Ari Cohen is absolutely delightful as dimwitted and emotionally fragile Frederick Fellowes, another actor in the troupe. Cohen produces one of the most consistent characters. He’s like a sad puppy you just want to take home and take care of.

The least bad of the not so good actors is played to perfection by the striking Marissa Snook. Of all the talented performers in the cast, Snook really stands out. The role of Belinda Blair is award-worthy in the right hands, and Snook does not disappoint. In the third act, Snook does a routine with a mop that is pure comic genius.

Whereas Belinda is the least bad actor in the company, Jamie Lee Cortese’s Brooke Ashton is meant to be the worst thing to ever step on a stage. Cortese is hilarious with her deer in the headlights naiveite and general constant cluelessness. She is all looks and no brains and one third of a love triangle with Lloyd and stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor.

Allena Rogers does a terrific job as Poppy, who in addition to being one of Lloyd’s frequent bedfellows, is part of a two-person crew Lloyd expects to keep everything running smoothly with minimal guidance, assistance, or sleep.

Tim Allgood, the sleep-deprived, unappreciated stage manager is played by the always impressive Brendan Gaughan. In addition to being the stage manager, Tim is also the understudy for all male roles leading to Gaughan offering up some uproariously bad accents.

“There is no such thing as a small role,” is part of a famous theatrical quote. Veteran Shakespearean artiste and resident drunk Selsdon Mowbray may be the smallest role in Noises Off!, but actor Stephen Pickering makes the most of every moment he is on stage. Pickering offers us a lovably glassy-eyed old coot who can’t remember his lines and will disappear with a bottle any time he’s given the chance. Pickering is a true scene stealer. You’ll be cheering for him the loudest come curtain call.

The success of Noises Off! depends on precision timing. Every line is important. Every movement has to be choreographed. Every detail counts. It’s not an easy show to produce, but Theatre 121 does a fine job. It’s an entertaining escape into a few hours of laughter.

As fun and enjoyable as the Theatre 121 production is, I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled with some of the costuming decisions. However, I also realize that community theaters operate on a much smaller budget than their professional contemporaries. Costumer Dee Korby and associate Elaine Cashmore stretched their dollars as best they could. I appreciate their intent.

Props are an integral part of Noises Off! and it’s not an easy props list. Tracey Lanman deserves commendation for providing the actors with everything they need to be successful.

Set design is by Dan Frank, with construction by foreman Brent White and assistant Paul Martin. Tom Hermanson proves to be a very dependable technical coordinator. Deb Homen provides lighting design with Nicole Weber serving as the light board technician. Lisa Dawson provides services as scenic artist and sound board technician. Stunts are choreographed by Tim Vance. In addition to directing Neumann serves as stage manager and Rakittke and husband Tony serve as production coordinators. Mike Thomas is assistant stage manager as well as an understudy.

One thing that helps audiences get into the world of the play within the play in most productions is that fake biographies of the characters are provided in the program as if the audience is really at a performance of Nothing On. It’s a fun way to introduce Lloyd, Dotty, Garry, Belinda, Frederick, Selsdon, Brooke, Poppy, and Tim to the audience and also gives the audience something to read during the two intermissions.

Neumann and Rakittke have opted not to include these write ups in the program for this production. It doesn’t necessarily hurt the show, but from the audience perspective it is noticeably missing. Overall, the direction is very good, with too many great comedic moments to squeeze into one review. This should truly be counted as a feather in the caps of these two talented directors.

Highly recommended, Noises Off plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from February 25 – March 13 at the Historic Woodstock Opera House located at 121 Van Buren Street in beautiful Woodstock, IL. Friday and Saturday performances start at 8 PM. Sunday performances have a curtain time of 2 PM. For tickets contact the Woodstock Opera House Box Office at (815) 338-5300 or visit www.WoodstockOperaHouse.com.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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