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Critic: Simon Saltzman. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January
19, 2000. All rights reserved.
Review: `Noises Off’ at Paper Mill
Don’t even think about a sneaky retreat up the aisle
of the Paper Mill Playhouse during Act I of "Noises Off."
If you do, the chances are you will collide head-on with a distressed
director irately heading toward the stage of what he believes to be
the Grand Theater in Weston-Super-Mare in England. It is here that
a second-rate (to give them more credit than they deserve) troupe
of actors is attempting, during a final frantic dress rehearsal, to
tie up the loose ends of a sex farce called "Nothing On."
Brian Murray, an actor who is always a pleasure to watch, plays the
director Lloyd Dallas, repeating the role he played in the original
Broadway production in 1983. Over the years, Murray has shown us many
unforgettable faces, in both classic and contemporary plays. Be
that you now have the opportunity to see him repeat one his most
If British playwright Michael Frayn’s exceedingly clever
farce, which enjoyed long runs in London and New York, isn’t as
funny as its premise suggests, we can’t blame this grand company of
farceurs. If you do survive the test of a rather tedious first act
that lasts almost an hour, the comical rewards do eventually appear.
The play’s plodding exposition is purposely designed to prepare us
for the remaining two hours of often overripe slapstick. The
and relationships of the mostly unhinged company are so much window
dressing designed to interfere with business but fuel the comedy.
In Act II, the play’s action moves on to the company’s next stop on
its provincial tour, viewed from a backstage perspective. Animosities,
hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and a general disregard for their
performing art become, for Frayn’s inane characters, a zany excuse
for a silent-movie-style charade of pratfalls, booby traps, and
side-splitting sight gags that spill over directly to the performance
As you might expect, innumerable bedroom, closet, and other extraneous
doors — all with faulty knobs, latches, and hinges — are the
attention-grabbing elements in designer Michael Anania’s somehow not
quite seedy enough-looking set. But you’ll want to keep both eyes
fixed on the inevitable appearance and disappearance of naughty
and fallen trousers, the split-second entrances and exits, as well
as missed cues and misplaced props.
Not to be upstaged is an increasingly menacing plate of sardines,
a treacherous cactus plant, and an almost-animated telephone receiver,
that have all been called into service. The fun of this type of farce
is to watch the ingenuity of a company hell bent on a kamikaze course,
while we, the audience, having almost memorized by this time the
two-syllable script, respond predictably to the utter confusion.
Out to get each other short of murder most foul, the troupe in Act
III is about to give a Wednesday matinee during the last leg
of its tour. As members of the audience at the Municipal Theater,
Stockton-On-Ties, we finally get to see a "regular"
of "Nothing On," as it hurtles toward self-destruction. James
Brennan’s direction makes as much (non-) sense out of the seemingly,
but obviously not, senseless script, as can be expected.
As Dotty Otley, the troupe’s producer who is concurrently playing
the role of a maid and having an affair with the juvenile lead, Anne
Rogers is notably to-the-genre-born, playing her character as a bundle
of insecurities run amok. Also having their share of backstage flings
are Edward Staudenmayer as Garry Lejeune, Dotty’s romantic interest
who can’t complete a thought or a sentence; Fiona Gallagher as Brooke
Ashton, the director’s ditsy girlfriend who drops her dress as
as her contact lenses; and Blair Sams as Poppy Norton-Taylor, the
harried stage manager and director’s ex-love interest.
Perhaps the funniest of the lot are Graeme Malcolm as the dimwitted
Frederick Fellow, who keeps insisting on plausible motivations for
his character; Lisby Larson as Belinda Blair, the company troublemaker
(like it needed one); and Leo Leyden, who plays the role of Selsdon
Mowbray, the alcoholic old trouper, with dazed senile assurance. If
in the end, the show’s set appears sturdier than the farce it
"Noises Off," is festooned with enough trappings and prompts
enough laughs to perk up any traditional January letdown at the
— Simon Saltzman
973-376-4343. $36 to $60. Through February 13.
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