Michael Frayn’s Noises Off has been celebrated as a farce to be reckoned with, and if reckoning means that the ensemble cast must execute precisely while pretending to be flailing about, then the cast of the current production at Lamb’s Players Theatre has reckoned well indeed.
It is 1976, and the cast of the British sex comedy, Nothing On, are in tech rehearsal hell. Everyone is struggling with lines, cues aren’t working, props go astray, and it’s getting late. There won’t be a dress rehearsal, because there’s so many problems to solve. Director Lloyd Dallas (Fran Gercke) has his mind on upcoming rehearsals for Richard III, as well as Poppy (Cynthia Gerber) and Brooke (Charlene Wilkinson), the two women in the cast he is courting. Well, courting may be too strong a word for what’s going on.
Meanwhile, the other cast members are trying to get it right. Dotty (Deborah Gilmour Smyth) has been playing the maid for so long she can’t keep the lines, or the props straight in this show, as compared to many others like it. Garry (Brian Mackey) and Brooke are looking for a place to have a “tryst,” as they say, and so are Frederick (Ross Hellwig) and Belinda (Jessica John). Selsdor (Jim Chovick) plays a burglar and hides booze around the set. Why a burglar is never really explained and why the booze is hidden doesn’t have to be explained. Tim (Omri Schein) carries on as a crew member who needs to go on at a moment’s notice if something goes wrong.
Watch carefully. Act 1 is slow because there are lots of moving parts that you should remember later on.
At intermission, the set is rotated (a task that takes pretty much everyone to accomplish) and we see it from backstage. It is a month later, the show is running, and with the director departed things have deteriorated. They never were all that solid to begin with, but there’s still some fumbling and a lot of ad libbing going on. Suddenly, Lloyd is back with aims of trying to woo the young Brooke while not alienating Poppy. That’s only part of the backstage drama, which, as it turns out, is much more interesting than what’s on stage. So, players come and go, do snippets of the backstage drama, and then head out to keep the onstage show going.
In Act 3 (yes, there are three acts) the front of the set is on display, and it is two months later. The production is nearing the end of its run, and things have really deteriorated. Nothing is working on stage, and everyone is ad libbing madly, to hilarious effect.
Director Robert Smyth has recruited a cast that, for the most part, has performed together a lot and trusts each other to be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. Among those he’s recruited is Jordan Miller, who literally choreographs the mayhem in Acts 2 and 3. Mr. Smyth gets to sit back and enjoy his actors put on a virtuoso display (and, somehow, avoid being injured in the process). All of the cast have to perform well together, and they do, but somehow Mr. Schein, who has the smallest role, sneakily steals whatever scenes he’s in. Even veteran scene stealer Jim Chovick is no match for Mr. Schein.
Scenic and costume design (by Mike Buckley and Jeanne Reith) are on the deliberately shabby side. Nathan Pierson’s lighting has to differentiate between backstage and on stage and does so neatly. Rachel Hengst figured out how to get multiple plates of sardines in, out, on the floor, and cleaned up again without anyone slipping who’s not supposed to slip. Ms. Gilmour-Smyth’s sound design shows off her usual ability to make creative music choices.
Mr. Frayn’s play should be foolproof, and in Lamb’s hands it is.