Review by Tulis McCall
19 January 2016
There is no real purpose to Noises Off, making its third appearance on the Broadway stage, other than to give you a chance to laugh. Purpose enough for you? Michael Frayn has written a play that is a very slow car wreck – that car being the clown car at the circus, out of which tumble 18 or so clowns. Ever character in this play is a certified clown, although each would deny it up to and on their deathbed. And for the most part, this cast has these characters buttoned down tighter than a ship’s canvas. THEY are having more fun than you can shake a stick at – so why should you not?
The “story” is that of an acting troupe out in the English nether regions at the beginning and conclusion of their tour. The play-within-the-play is Nothing On, and the program-within-the-program is worth a thorough read. The setting for the play is an English Manor house with three doors downstairs and three doors upstairs. The set alone lets you know that there will be many a mishap involving entrances and exits.
Dotty Otley (Andrea Martin) is, as her name suggests, a few sandwiches shy of a picnic. She is a British theatrical icon – come down a few pegs in the world. In her own mind, however, where it only seats one, she is theatre royalty. Dotty is playing the maid of the manor, which is supposed to be empty while the owners, played by Frederick Fellowes (Jeremy Shamos) – a bit of a simpleton and Belinda Blair (Kate Jennings Grant) who is only lacking a leather bustier and a whip – relax in Spain and avoid tax investigators. On the weekend in question Frederick and Belinda decide to return for a visit. However, it is also the weekend that their solicitor, played by Gary LeJeune (played with understudied brilliance by David Furr) shows up with his secretary Vicki (Megan Hilty). There is the obligatory burglar played by Seldon Mowbray (Daniel David) and a never ending parade of plates of sardines.
Our first act is the final rehearsal for the play that opens in a matter of hours. It is overseen by its director Llyod Dallas (Campbell Scott) who is slowly losing his grip on the tiny whisp of sanity he still has. The play is in shambles and the actors are still insisting on having input instead of following the direction. Doors won’t open, or won’t close. Entrances and exits are willy nilly. And there is the matter of a certain pair of contact lenses that pop out at the most inconvenient time leaving Vicki stranded where she stands and bringing the entire cast to a halt.
Our second act takes place later in the run where we see this finely tuned machine nearly collapse of its own accord. However, we watch all this from backstage where the “real” names of the actors are used and all the relationships are revealed. There is romance and philandering a plenty, and these people miss no opportunity for petty revenge in the middle of the performance.
The final act winds down with the cast and crew tumbling slowly to their demise until the curtain finally and literally comes down. By this act we, the audience, can hardly keep up with the elaborate dance these actors are executing. The blocking is dizzying, and you stare in wonder as these folks dazzle you with their moves. David Furr and Jeremy Shamos lead the pack with their slapstick, and the BEST pratfall ever seen on a stage. At the other end of the scale, Ms. Hilty appears to be in a play all her own, out of step as a performer, which leaves her character in the lurch and causes the rhythm of the show to sputter once too often. In between is everyone else who ably remembers their lines and avoids bumping into the furniture – except when they must.
If you don’t care a whit for meaning or purpose or terribly deep thoughts – treat yourself to a bundle of laughs. It’s a little Monkey House, a little Marx Brothers and a soupçon of the best of Carol Burnett. A perfect confection for the Bridge and Tunnel crowd, of which there is no shortage.
"'Noises Off,' the heady, headlong and (sorry, alliteration haters) altogether hilarious farce by Michael Frayn, which opened on Thursday at the American Airlines Theater, providing generous doses of heat-generating laughter as the winter chill finally sets in."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Broadway’s fitfully funny 'Noises Off' reminds that it’s tricky to perfectly bake this triple layer cake of a comedy. This production gets about it about halfway right — so even with a soggy and slack final stretch, you’re left grinning over the show’s sly inner workings."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"At times it seems as if the cast is so focused on hitting its marks — 'Noises Off' requires Swiss-like precision — that the actors forget to have fun."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Noises Off is a precision-timed laugh machine, and director Jeremy Herrin’s ensemble is peppered with some of New York’s finest comic actors. So why did I chuckle so little—perhaps even less than at the weak 2001 mounting?"
David Cote for Time Out New York
"Michael Frayn's farce about putting on a stage farce is breathlessly clever and funny, a staple of the contemporary theater repertoire. How can it be made even funnier? The Roundabout Theatre Company somehow has found a way, armed with inspired casting."
Mark Kennedy for Associated Press
"The timing's not yet perfect but this well-cast production hits its hilarious mark more often than not."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Funny lady Andrea Martin leads the nimble cast of this well-tooled revival helmed by Jeremy Herrin, who kept his comedic sensibilities under wraps in last season’s austere RSC production of 'Wolf Hall,' but cuts loose here."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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