A Joyful Noise: On & Off @ Theatre Arlington

Added Performance due to sell-out crowds: January 29, 6pm!!!!!

“One day I must write a farce from behind,” exclaimed British playwright Michael Frayn in 1970, while watching a light comedy he wrote for Lynn Redgrave unfold from backstage, where “it was funnier.” In 1982 his celebrated farce Noises Off emerged, its title referring to offstage sound cues. Guaranteed box office gold for professional and community theatres alike on both sides of the Atlantic for many years, it has undergone multiple revisions to stay relevant and interesting for contemporary audiences.

Theatre Arlington’s current production of Noises Off uses the most recent update, directed handily by Andy Baldwin. It presents a well-orchestrated melee in three mindless, pratfall-filled vignettes, revealing different perspectives of “Act I” of a hapless sex comedy called Nothing On: in its final dress rehearsal out front, at a dismal matinee performance from backstage, and out front near the end of the play’s ill-fated run. Its humor emerges from the “human drama” that unfolds over the run’s course. The chaos presented includes extensive slapstick bits, a scantily clad ingénue who keeps losing a contact lens, men dropping their trousers and tumbling down stairs, a progressively drunk geezer who can not ever quite remember his lines, a temperamental “artiste” of a director, several offstage romances gone awry (revenged onstage) and multiple plates of sardines and slamming doors. In fact, the faux director describes the play’s thematic essence as “doors and sardines.” Remember, this play was written long before reality television erased the lines between actor and audience. While its structured shift back and forth between front and backstage may feel quaint and contrived now, at one time it seemed fresh and very, very clever.

Andy Baldwin coaxes maximum comic performance out of his well-cast ensemble, carefully orchestrating the bedlam with consistent focus to detail and well-defined cadence and rhythm. Mayhem pours forth with a natural, effortless spontaneity, a credit to actors’ skills and Baldwin’s keen instinct for comedy.  Ben Phillips sets the tone as the overbearing, pompous stage director Lloyd, barely in control of his own libido, much less his capricious cast. Krista Scott’s dry, droll delivery and exasperated expressiveness as aging actress and jilted lover Dotty maintain the play’s pure comic zaniness throughout, always accessible to the audience. Gamine Mikaela Krantz as the undie-clad Brooke garners a lion’s share of guffaws with her nubile slapstick and stilted, “hammy” line delivery. Struggling vainly to plow through the muddle, Sherry Hopkins as secondary female lead Belinda and Eric Dobbins and Robin Daniel as Nothing On’s stage and front of house manager only exacerbate the chaos and add to the general hilarity through their ineffectual attempts to restore “normalcy”. Shane Beeson and Brad Stephens, as the play’s dueling leading men, completely succeed in making hilarious fools of themselves while enacting the largest portion of physical comedy. It’s the most unbridled fun I’ve seen Beeson have with a role to date. Michael James’ resonant professionalism allows him to provide the coup de grace to the romp as drunk Selsdon the cat burglar, charming the audience with bungled lines and perfectly mis-timed entrances as he spends the entire play searching for more booze, blissfully oblivious to the scene shambles he creates. Nobody watching will want to nod off and miss a silly moment.

Once again, Theatre Arlington’s production team creates topnotch onstage physical reality, putting the theater’s intimate proscenium space to full use. The rotating two level set design by Jack Hardaway with Jennye James’ scenic painting works equally well as “backstage” as its finished London Flat “front”. The sound and lighting flow together flawlessly, or not, with deadly deliberate intention (Michael Winters and Andrea Allmond). Shelbie Mac’s splendid props array, appears, or doesn’t, on deftly guided or horribly misguided cue. Meredith Hinton’s costumes reveal everything they should, or shouldn’t, enhancing overall comic effect and enabling the actors to maximize their characters’ eccentricities. Stage Manager Audri Arnold, assisted by Cheyney Coles, work honest magic in keeping the dual production on track, careening across its three-act span.

Start 2012 off right with Frayn’s classic farce, knowing that director Andy Baldwin and his intrepid team strictly follow the playwright’s original prescription for comic immersion. Repeat “doors and sardines” as hopeful mantra, imbibe a few stiff cocktails and call Theatre Arlington in the morning….

Noises Off runs through January 29.

Tickets: (817) 275-7661 Metro: (817) 261-9628

www.theatrearlington.org

305 W. Main St. Arlington, TX 76010

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