Monday, September 24, 2012

Tune out to Noises Off!

Like an overfermented wine, Noises Off! promises all the features of a fantastic show, but leaves the audience coming away with a tinny taste in their mouth. It’s not necessarily a bad flavor, but it’s disappointing compared to what one expected.
Noises Off! is the same story retold three times from different vantage points. It opens on a British cast as they run through their dress rehearsal of a (terrible) play called Nothing On, which is essentially a ‘focus on sardines and slamming doors.’ Tensions run high as cast members stumble through set pieces, forget their lines and blocking, and reveal multiple romantic tensions.
The second act reveals the strained effect of this awful production from a behind-the-scenes vantage point, turning the meta- “play on play on play” feel up one more notch. The cast is clearly at their wits’ end, and all manner of fights and sabotage take place as we watch them attack each other backstage during their performances.

The third act finds us once again watching the play from the front as its audience. The cast clearly no longer cares to feign an interest in performing, and finally gives up on the whole shoddy interaction with an exhausted collapse.
The farce has some extremely funny moments, such as a lingerie-clad search for a lost contact, a cantankerous director bellowing from the tech booth, and Bradley Greenwald’s extraordinary facial expressions. The concept of flipping the action between performance and backstage action is also entertaining, and the context this contrasting perspective provides is helpful in enjoying the play.
Photo: Michal Daniel
But, ultimately, (and I’m going to get in trouble for this), Noises Off! is simply too long. The show’s repetitive nature and physical comedy lends itself to a lean, quickly paced script. A brisk 90 minute condensation of the current material would be more than enough to provide the audience with the same amount of humor and understanding of the plot. But instead, after two full intermissions and three dragging acts, the truly golden bits of Noises Off! become lost amidst a mountain of uninspiring pyrite.
The Jungle brought in a stellar cast of regulars for Noises Off!, and they do as much as they can with their roles. Standouts include EJ Subkoviak as surly director Lloyd Dallas, Bradley Greenwald as the simpering Frederick Fellowes, and the unabashed ballsery of Summer Hagen as resident ditz Brooke Ashton. These three manage to provide timely gutbusting pacemakers to break up the lengthy monotony of the script, particularly in the first and third acts.
Neal Skoy finally returns to the stage as Tim Allgood, and I hope he comes back in another show that allows him more stage time. Cheryl Willis (Dotty Otley), Kirby Bennett (Belinda Blair), Ryan Nelson (Garry Lejeune), Kimberly Richardson (Poppy Norton-Taylor) and Stephen D’Ambrose (Selsdon Mowbray) round out the cast, and each heaves as much humor out of their lines as possible.

Noises Off! is a classic example of Jungle programming, with a solid cast, interesting set, and clear direction. Unfortunately, the resistance to judicious editing prevents what might have been a great play with a few tweaks into an okay performance following the original to a T.