NOISES OFFWritten by Michael Frayn
Grand Prairie Arts Council
Director – Dr. Denise Rodrigue
Set Designer – Matt Betz
Lighting Designer – Jordan Fetter
Sound Designer – Steven and Chelsea Monty
Costume Designer – Eric Criner/Costumes by Dusty
Stage Manager – Michelle Phillips
Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clacket – Dana Harrison
Brooke Ashton/Vicki – Lynsey Hale
Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent – Bryana Stockwell
Poppy Norton-Taylor – Michelle Phillips
Lloyd Dallas – Jerry Downey
Garry Lejeune/Roger – Michael Alger
Frederick Fellows/Phillip Brent/Sheikh – R Bradford Smith
Selsdon Mowbray/Burglar – Kelley Garland
Tim Allgood – Jake Harris
Reviewed Performance: 10/3/2014
Reviewed by Larry Ukolowicz, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The U.S. premiere came in December 1983 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway where it ran for 553 performances and starred Dorothy Loudon, Victor Garber, Brian Murray and Deborah Rush. Also directed by Blakemore, it earned Tony Award nominations and won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble.
In 1992, Noises Off made it to the silver screen with mixed reviews. The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and had a stellar cast with Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Nicolette Sheridan and Marilu Henner. Playwright Michael Frayn said of the movie, “I think they made a good job of it, but it’s an inherently theatrical piece, and you have to feel some sense of danger that exists with farce, where you feel things might go wrong. On film, you know nothing can go wrong, so that slightly takes off the edge of things.”
Noises Off became a staple of both community and professional theatres. The National Theatre revived the play in 2000 starring Patricia Hodge and Peter Egan and ran two years before transferring to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End starring Lynn Redgrave. Broadway brought it back in 2001 starring Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher and Katie Finneran who won Best Featured Actress by both the Tony and the Drama Desk Awards.
Frayn has repeatedly rewritten his play over the years. There are numerous differences between the 1982 and 2000 scripts. Some new sequences have been added and other sequences have been altered or cut entirely. References that tend to date the play, such as Mrs. Clackett’s reference to a color television, have been eliminated or rewritten. Still, it remains one of the most popular farces ever produced for theatres and audiences alike.
Noises Off takes a peek at a woefully unprepared theater company running through its final dress rehearsal of Act One, then of Act Two to a matinee audience one month later (seen backstage), and finally to a performance near the end of the run (onstage) of Act Three, of a poor farce called Nothing On, the type of play in which young girls run around in their underwear, old men drop their trousers and many doors continually bang open and shut. Mix that well worn premise of farce with real life love gone badly between the actors and you come up with a delicious, fun and funny plot where romance turns into exacting vengeance. The performances onstage and backstage become a battleground of wits, woes and outright war. Oh, and let’s not forget those darn plates of sardines. Wherever do they disappear?
If it's bewildering to the audience, just imagine how exacting this tightly choreographed scramble must be to perform. Nevertheless, Director Dr. Denise Rodrigue and her ensemble cast at GPAC’s Uptown Theater rise to the level of the play’s chaotic pace, smoothly delivering its blend of over-the-top lines and slapstick humor. Dr. Rodrigue pays great attention to the timing of entrances and exits, as they are the main thrust of this play. If an actor misses one entrance or exit, it could literally end the show. Yet, what is so incredibly brilliant about this play is that if an entrance or exit is made in error, how would the audience know since the play moves at lightning speed anyway? Regardless of that hypothesis, Dr. Rodrigue knows the importance of non-stop action and it shows brilliantly.
Six of the nine actors play dual roles, that of the actor and then of the character in the play within the play. And by Act Three, when the cast goes completely bonkers, absolutely nobody’s dignity survives. It is a nifty trick when an actor has to portray a comic deterioration of self, turning over an even tighter corner to make their character look completely out of control. It is in this act that all actors on the stage shine and show their true talents.
Dana Harrison as Dottie Otley, who embarks on a romance with actor Garry Lejeune, humiliates her co-star with such precision and determination it brings back memories of Linda Blair’s demonic daggered stare in The Exorcist. Ms. Harrison is hysterical in the role, and with great decisive facial expression, shows us what revenge is all about.
As tongue-tied, confused and disheveled Garry Lejeune, Michael Alger is riotously riveting. Mr. Alger handles the disjointed, disorderly dialogue with wondrous poise and ease to portray a completely bewildered moron. When Dottie becomes militant in her revenge, the befuddlement increases and Mr. Alger holds nothing back, prat-falling and stuttering his way into comedic hysteria.
As maternal and gossipy actress Belinda Blair, Bryana Stockwell molds her face into an endless torrent of spot on reactions, as she tries to calm the other actors until mistakenly seen as a vixen out for another’s intended. Then, as all hell breaks loose, Ms. Stockwell deftly becomes one of the soldiers in the war of getting even.
Lynsey Hale gives the dippy, scantily-clad ingénue, Brooke Ashton, a seductively wonderful, honest quality as a young woman trying to hone her acting skills, who just happens to be very well put together. Ms. Hale’s shining moments are when, dressed in a sexy black ensemble and on hands and knees, she tries to locate her contact that keeps falling out of her eye, and getting the entire cast doing the same. This bit works both onstage and backstage with wonderful precision.
Kelley Garland plays drunken, forgetful, nearly Alzheimer-disabled Selsdon Mowbray, the inner play’s comic relief oddly enough, with great truth and believability. Mr. Garland portrays Selsdon with a sweet, gentle cluelessness that becomes endearing and admired. There is almost a sadness painted on Garland’s sullied face, expressionless and lost, and it made my heart smile.
Jerry Downey, playing director Lloyd Dallas, offers droll guidance from offstage and jumps on when things get truly dire, which they often do. Mr. Downey’s character is the poster child for keeping calamity under control, working with confused and difficult actors, and trying to just get the show up and running, no matter what it takes. His interpretation of Lloyd Dallas is flawless, with grand, sweeping gestures and a melodically- changing voice for each individual and their crisis, all the while sporting an impeccable English accent of Shakespearean quality.
Jacob Harris as Tim Allgood is delightful. Allgood is the fix-it man for all occasions, and whether it be repairing the set or stepping onstage as an understudy, he is always there. Mr. Harris gives this multi-leveled, tightly wound character a comedic Sybil-like performance, displaying many faces of support, sorrow and allegiance or changing moods and expressions at the drop of a hat.
Stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor, performed by Michelle Phillips, handles her torrid love affair with director Dallas with great aplomb until he flakes out on her. Ms. Phillips plays Poppy with a genuine, loving façade, wonderfully displaying great emotion to flood the stage with tears of sadness, tears of jealousy, tears of revenge and yes, even tears of joy.
The set design by Matt Betz is a two-level, onstage/backstage flip-flop construction on wheels which works incredibly well, with constant movement, working doors and windows, and half staircase. It’s amazing the set remains standing at the end of the show. Act One is performed on the inner play’s set, a country home’s comfortable living room with doors leading to various rooms of the house. During intermission, the set is reversed to see what life is like backstage, showing the back of scaffolding, mirrors for makeup checks, rickety-looking stairs to get to the set’s second floor, and costumes strewn about. Mr. Betz uses the space well, making it easy for actors to move and maneuver on the set with great ease. The audience, if they’ve never been involved in a play, gets the real feel of life onstage and backstage.
Lights by Jordan Fetter and sound by Steven and Chelsea Monty go hand-in-hand in this production, making a great team effort, especially in Act Two where the action takes place backstage but the audience also sees snippets of the performance onstage beyond the two story wall of the set. As such, there are two sets of light and sound cues happening simultaneously, and for this production the changes occur as quickly as the actors move, which is constantly. This is immaculately conceived and projected by Mr. Fetter and Mr. and Ms. Monty.
Costumes by Eric Criner from Costumes by Dusty are well chosen. From Mrs. Clackett’s housekeeper garb of flowered, frumpy dress and apron, to Roger Tramplemain’s two-piece, double-breasted, checked suit (that I would love to own), to Vicki’s black gartered scanty little ensemble, to Philip’s falling trousers, they all looked marvelous. I especially enjoyed Lloyd Dallas taking Poppy’s skirt and turning it into a costume in seconds. Mr. Criner is to be commended for making these costumes rip-off and fall-down perfectly.
What’s the show all about? I think character director Lloyd Dallas says it best with “Doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theater. That’s life.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks, Grand Prairie Arts Council for reminding us that life is so very wonderfully funny…and for dong it so bloody well!
Grand Prairie Arts Council
120 E. Main St., Grand Prairie, TX 75050
Runs through October 12th
Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday - Sunday at 2:00 pm
Tickets range from $11.00 to $22.00.
For more information, visit http://www.artsgp.org/ or call 972-642-ARTS(2787).