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Reviewd by Shawn Stalter, Chief Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic
Allen Community Theatre swings the door wide open for some big laughs with their high-energy production of Michael Frayn’s popular farce, “Noises Off.”
In “Noises Off,” audiences enjoy an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of a traveling theatre company as they prepare for, and perform, the fictitious British comedy, “Nothing On.” However, continually shifting romantic interests combined with larger-than-life personalities sparks drama backstage and threatens to derail the show.
The first act begins deceptively slow as we witness the cast’s final rehearsal for the fast-approaching opening night of “Nothing On.” Throughout this act, the show’s director, “Lloyd,” played by Mark Massey, works tirelessly to wrangle the cast and get the show on its feet. Despite his best efforts though, lines are forgotten, cues are missed, props malfunction and plates of sardines never appear where or when they are needed. The second act takes us behind the stage to see the dynamic duo of Bethany Brown as “Polly” the forlorn stage manager and Benjamin Meaders as “Tim” the overworked stagehand, face the impossible task of reining in the cast’s outlandish behavior. By the third act, the train officially plummets off the tracks amid a flurry of onstage surprises and more misplaced plates of sardines, of course.
In Allen Community Theatre’s capable hands, “Noises Off” came to life fully infused with the antics and shenanigans which make this a laugh out loud show. Under Carol M. Rice’s exceptionally attuned direction, the dynamic cast kept the optimal pace to help slow-cook the mounting tension before, ultimately, allowing it to boil over into its hilarious finale.
Each member of this standout cast excelled in their roles and crafted some uproariously funny comedy. Hayley Ewerz portrayed her role as “Belinda/Flavia” with an expressive flair that helped trace her devolution from a level-headed, gregarious member of the cast to an actress on the verge of a breakdown. As “Garry/Roger,” Joel Hashop gave an ideal performance of the nervously-forgetful English “gentleman” turned jealous ex-lover as the cast’s offstage romantic interests realign. Last but not least, Sarah Perkins’ “Brooke/Vicki” was a massive hit with the audience. Flowing in and out of her two characters with ease, her intentional over-acting and failure to adapt her lines to the evolving events of the show were both standout moments from this well-rounded production.
Beyond the precision timing and top-notch acting from this cast, both the stage design from Carol M. Rice and Lamar Graham, as well as lighting courtesy of Greg Cotton, helped make this a must-see show. Specifically, the masterful lighting in act two accentuated the setting’s intimate, up-close-and-personal view of the action, all while maintaining the illusion of the presence of an audience on the other side of the stage.
Overall, Allen Community Theatre’s production of “Noises Off” is a splendidly entertaining show, bursting at the seams with high-tempo hilarity. DFW theatregoers and comedy fans shouldn’t miss out on a chance to catch this spectacular show.
Reviewed Performance: 1/31/2020
Reviewed by Carla Wicks, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
NOISES OFF is a farcical production based on an original play, Nothing On, written in the 1980’s. Michael Frayn has done a superb job of capturing the essence of theatre, the playground for actors, from onstage and off-stage perspectives. This Work has held together for over thirty years. It brings enthusiastic laughter from the audience as they are immersed in a “day in the life” of a production. As long as there is theatre there will be both sides of the set to always consider. Glad Michael Frayn captured it in his fantastic script.
A replicated copy of the January 1985 program of Nothing On is tucked into the playbill and provides a nice glimpse back for audience members who may not be familiar with what they are about to experience.
I was greatly pleased to know that the Director (Carol M. Rice) was allowed to use the original Frayn script of NOISES OFF for this production at Allen’s Community Theatre. She is well versed in this work having seen countless productions of the show, been a cast member and directed it twice. She brings a wealth of experience to this production evident in her explicable staging of each actor in every scene. For this show to deliver on the comedic timing needed to engage the audience and hold them from entrance to exit of each actor, precision is the key and Carol delivers with excellence. Her ability to block her cast and make use of the stage was nothing short of superb and a job more than well done. Just keeping track of who went off stage and where and who needs to enter next from where a big enough feat is and yet the play flowed on cue and on point from beginning to end. Well done.
Upon entering the theatre house, I studied the set, the design and the very pristine arrangement of set pieces. The stage area was ideal for the depicted house’s living room size and offered a great view from any seat in the theatre. The set was well constructed, and as I would learn in the second act, it allowed the audience a wonderful glimpse into the unfinished backstage side. The three pieces, comprising the whole set, were built well enough to allow movement by the stage technicians from scene one to scene two and to scene three. With this set design, there was no room for shabby workmanship. The audience would see ALL during the production. My hat is off to the master-builder (Lamar Graham) for his construction masterpiece. This indeed is a set to be proud of as it worked terrific and gave the actors the room needed. Great job.
The play begins with the Housekeeper - Dotty/Mrs. Clackett (Deborah Key) arriving onstage to answer the phone carrying a plate of sardines. Quickly realizing a hiccup in her lines/prop the Director - Lloyd (Mark Massey) calls to stop action from his seat in the audience. For anyone not familiar with this play it might startle him or her as to what is happening. Someone is calling out instructions and questions from the audience? One quickly realizes as Mrs. Clackett responds that the person in the audience is indeed an actor portraying the show’s Director. What they are witnessing is the final run-through before the show has its opening night. Deborah and Mark play well off of each other to set what will be the tone and pattern as other actors arrive on stage and experience their own “cut/hold” and receive feedback from the Director. Deborah delivers on her character as a most refined housekeeper who manages to move throughout the production with the correct amount of attitude shifting to engage the audience to her changing demeanor. Mark has more layers than an onion with his character and how he manages revealing them to the audience is done well.
The entrance of Garry/Roger (Joel Hashop) and Brooke/Vicki (Sarah Perkins) brought a sharp increase in the level of energy each played. Their characters were precise in their stage movement and facial expressions. Who could not be drawn to Sarah, as she was present in each moment with her mannerisms defining her character persona. How Joel and Sarah related to each other was very believable and endearing.
The actors playing Frederick/Philip (Edgar Segura) and Belinda/Flavia (Hayley Ewerz) continued to heighten the comic relief with each giving the audience a taste of these characters and their believability as real people in a situation they didn’t expect. Edgar had to negotiate the set with a costume positioned that could have spelled disaster, but he was flawless in execution. Hayley maintained a sense of control and poise throughout.
When Poppy (Bethany Brown) and Tim (Benjamin Meaders) arrive on stage, at the Director's request, we are greeted with the first glimpse of what happens in the theater world when all kinds of chaos are occurring and there is a need for backstage help. As is typical the onstage actors, going through this last rehearsal, get bored at the tech crew arrival and just want to “get on with it” while the Director tries to keep from losing his cool.
Having Selsdon (Budd Mahan) arrive for the first time on stage from the back of the audience is very clever and appropriate given he is a bit scattered mentally. The way in which Budd plays this older gent is very charming given he is written as the burglar - if he can remember when to arrive onstage.
My intent in this review is purposeful to not get into the storyline or the plot because that is what makes this comedy so hilarious. You have to experience it and welcome the element of surprise that takes place with each opening and shutting of a door and each mishap with a sardine.
I will say that each of the nine cast members brought full energy on max throttle with every entrance and exit. There was little time for catching a breath in order to deliver the action needed to move this play along. With each exit, and a quick reentrance in many cases, adrenaline had to stay in high gear. This is often hard to do when slipping backstage. For this cast to also move from onstage to backstage and then onstage again over the three acts and include the shift in what their character’s message is delivering to the audience as a developed plot line make them each uniquely talented. This is most difficult because it is the equivalent of doing three shows in one. Well, well done entire cast.
This is the appropriate place to shout out to the Fight Choreographer (Joseph L. Taylor II) who was absolutely brilliant in getting this group to embrace the level of action, falls, slaps, grabs and so forth and make what looks painful at times to be executed with care and concern for actor safety. Not an easy show to manage from a choreography perspective but the end product was the best I have seen.
The fact that none of these actors were using microphones was not an issue. These nine knew well how to project. All actors could use to study this production as to how to project their voices and maintain the proper level of inflictions as well as changing facial and body movements to garner the appropriate reaction of the audience. The Sound Designer (Jason Rice) and Sound Operator (Mayabella Stubbs) achieved not only the use of noises needed but not be overbearing of actor voice levels. This cast conquered these sound elements while in motion very well never allowing their voices to trail off as they were exiting.
The Costume Design team (Sakura Brunette and Kelsey Reynolds) provided attire that fitted the characters well. Nothing was too elaborate and all the pieces blended well with who wore them and how they fit individual personalities. Even areas of “exposure” were done tastefully.
The Prop Designer (Debbie Stevenson) made use of period-specific items as well as simplistic ease of use from a scene-by-scene basis of even the smallest props.
Kudos to the build crew and painter who brought this set to life. It was done beautifully providing a great backdrop without overshadowing the Work.
Last but not least AT ALL are the Stage Manager and Stage Technicians. WOW! Watching them transform this set into the three different scenes was no easy feat. Like actor movement is choreographed so must a great tech crew when moving big rolling partitions of walls and resetting with precision the individual props and furniture pieces. Most of a tech crew’s work is usually done behind and not in full view of the audience but in this production, the changing of the set was part of the overall enjoyment of the evening. You guys ROCKED!
OVERALL this production of NOISES OFF was beyond excellent and exceeded my expectations. I was drawn in from the first line of dialogue and filled with laughter until the end. It is a definite MUST SEE and I hope many will get the opportunity to experience this talented cast in a show for the ages.
My hats off to the theatre staff and workers for what many don’t take the time to appreciate. The atmosphere of Allen’s Community Theatre was charming and the facilities were clean and orderly. Concessions at no charge were an added treat. The staff was engaging, full of smiles and an experience well worth the drive if you live a distance away.