Michael Frayn’s provocative but involving play, “Noises Off”, is now showcasing at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Repertory. Directed by Art Manke, it features a great cast and a multifaceted view for the audience on the life of a play. By using a play within a play structure, Frayn gathers the comedy from behind the stage action.
Act 1 of “Noises Off” is the rushed rehearsal of the play “Nothing On,” in which the audience assumes the viewpoint of the director. Lloyd Dallas, played by Kaleo Griffith, is the frustrated director, situated within the audience. He is dealing with the pointless questions of actors struggling to find meaning in the pointless actions of the characters they are playing.
Dotty Otley, an actor and the play’s investor, played by Kandis Chappell, portrays Mrs. Clackett, the sardine-loving housekeeper in “Nothing On.” Frustrated by all the actions she must do, she questions the meaning of all the back and forth. The director, tired with his job, explains, “That’s what it’s all about. Doors and sardines. Getting on-getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theatre. That’s life.”
All the characters were interesting and engaging. Poppy, played by Winslow Corbett, is the sensitive assistant stage manager and an understudy to bombshell Brooke Ashton, played by Jennifer Lyon, who portrays Vicky. Brooke doesn’t do much acting because her persona isn’t far off from the dumb blonde, sex kitten role she plays. Vicky/Brooke is the main attraction of the play, since the whole time she is crawling on the floor looking for her contact lens with nothing on but lingerie.
After the first intermission, the audience assumes the perspective of the backstage crew. The personal drama between the actors unravels into a humorous escapade. The actors run around the backstage, dropping sardines, chasing each other with an axe, tying shoe laces, tripping on stage and hiding and drinking whiskey. The actions parody the stupidity of human drama in personal relationships. The love triangle between Lloyd the director, Brook the star, and Poppy the now pregnant assistant, escalates the failure of the doomed play.
The last Act is when the audience finally assumes their own point of view. By now the viewers have the complete picture of the characters, their actions and their purpose. They know what the play is expected to be like, but what is observed is the complete disaster. Everyone falls down, some give up on their lines, others just forget them, and others just keep going even if their lines become completely inappropriate. What keeps the audience laughing is that they, too, are made fun of. When the actors talk ironically about the audience and the fact that it is a bunch of old geezers, the audience can’t help but laugh at the truth.
This play is a fine display of British humor, but leaves ambivalent sentiments. It is put on for a mature audience, not humor wise, but rather the lack of clothing can make some feel uncomfortable and others far too comfortable.
“Noises Off” is now playing at South Coast Repertory Theatre from Feb. 6 through Mar. 8. For more information call 714-708-5555 or visit www.scr.org.