I’ve seen Michael Frayn’s Noises Off a number of times since I first viewed it in London, decades ago, and I’ve never ceased to be impressed by its careful construction, both of its farcical situations and its characters. The play’s theatrical setting, its three-act structure (covering the gradual deterioration of a play-within-a-play called Nothing On), its physical comedy and its overall absurdity virtually guarantee laughs, even if the production quality varies.
The production currently onstage at Venice Theatre is by no means the best I’ve seen, nor is it the worst. If I wasn’t laughing uproariously, at least I was able to smile and chuckle at the onstage and backstage antics of the cast and crew of Nothing On.
If you’ve somehow never seen it before, the line-up of characters here is pretty (and deliberately) stock. There’s a middle-aged actress with a bad memory for her lines (Cheryl Andrews); her much younger and hopelessly inarticulate boyfriend (Matt McClure), whom she makes jealous by flirting with a nice guy-dim bulb (Jeremy Guerrero); another dim bulb in the form of a bimbo-ish actress (Heather Forte); an actress who’s always in the know about everyone’s personal lives (Alison Prouty); an alcohol-swilling old veteran (Neil Kasanofsky); and the two put-upon stage managers (Nicole Cunningham and Charles Kollar), forced to try to keep the show running. That’s also in the hands of director Lloyd (Allan Kollar), who may know what he’s doing on the stage but runs into women trouble off of it.
The show’s first act, a rehearsal, is anything but successful, but at least this mixed bag of characters is on their best behavior, with lots of “loves” and “sweets” being tossed around. By the time the famous second act, which takes place backstage and features a lot of pantomime, arrives, most of that politeness has dissolved. And by the final act—well, anything goes.
Director James Alexander Bond and the cast have worked hard here to keep the action flowing swiftly and plausibly within the play’s conceit, and of course they’re aided by Tim Wisgerhof’s set, which depends on a lot of doors and a staircase that keeps some cast members—especially McClure, Forte and Prouty—running up and down for a full gym workout. Some of the players are more ideal for their roles than others, physically or age-wise, and some perform better British accents than others. But overall, they work smoothly together, and Frayn’s classic is just so full of comic opportunities to savor that this Noises Off should entertain you.
Noises Off continues through Jan. 31; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.