Nancy Sasso Janis
“Freddie, love, I'm telling you I don't know. I don't think the author knows. I don't know why the author came into this industry in the first place. I don't know why any of us came into it.” - Lloyd the director in ‘Noises Off’
Storrs, CT - ‘Noises Off’ is a play within a madcap farce written by Michael Frayn The sharp production running at Connecticut Repertory Theatre on the campus of UConn Storrs was directed by Vincent J. Cardinal. Mr. Cardinal returns to the Nutmeg Summer Series after previously serving as CRT’s artistic director and the head of the department of dramatic arts at UConn; he currently teaches at the University of Michigan. Terrance Mann is the artistic director this season and served as fight choreographer for this production; Mathew J. Pugliese is the executive producer.
The story of ‘Noises Off’ involves an ambitious director and his troupe of mediocre actors that are trying to put together a silly sex comedy called ‘Nothing On.’ The embedded show is a single set farce in which the lovers frolic, multiple doors slam, outer clothes are tossed away and lots of hi-jinks follow. The three acts of the comedy show us a dress rehearsal, backstage at a matinee performance and finally on stage during a ruined performance of the doomed production at the end of it’s run. A large chunk of the second act is done silently backstage as the performance proceeds on the other side of the set; anyone who has ever waited behind the scenes for an entrance will love it.
Adding much to the UConn production is an impressively decorated set of the living room of an English country home that literally revolves to reveal the impressively accurate backstage area of the stage. The audience gets to watch the rotation between acts two and three and actually applauded at the matinee I attended. Tim Brown gets the credit for this massive undertaking in scenic design and Michael Chybowski lit it very nicely.
The cast of strongly drawn characters were played by a very talented group of Equity actors and university students/recent graduates that had to work very hard to keep up with the non- stop action. I marveled at how they managed to remember their lines, their cues, and their props all while moving at breakneck speed. They did get a break during the two intermissions but it probably seemed much shorter to them than to the audience.
Jennifer Cody, a member of the original Broadway cast of ‘Shrek the Musical’ opposite her sister-in-law Sutton Foster, nailed the role of Dotty Otley who is the actress playing the housekeeper who has trouble keeping track of a plate of sardines. This dancer/actress was impressive in both the physical comedy and her pinpoint sense of comic timing.
Lloyd Dallas, the director of the flop, was played by John Bixler and putting him in the aisles with a God mic added authenticity. Michael Doherty returned to CRT after playing Black Stache in last summer’s ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’ to play the overworked company and stage manager Tim Allgood.
Steve Hayes also returned to CRT to play the role of Selsdon Mowbray who needs to be kept away from alcohol.
Jayne Ng, a recent BFA Musical Theatre graduate from the University of Miami, played the part of Brooke Ashton. I enjoyed her take on the young inexperienced actress who, when she isn’t losing her contact lenses, pays no attention to anyone and simply plows on through her lines, all while acting badly. Grace Allyn played assistant stage manager Poppy Norton Taylor with charm and Arlene Bozich, who played Goneril in CRT’s ‘King Lear’ and is now an MFA Acting grad, played well the actress Belinda Blair.
Curtis Longfellow, who was Edmund in ‘King Lear’ and is now an MFA grad, carried off his feathered wig to play Garry Legeune, and Gavin McNicholl, a young man with many CRT credits, took on the role of actor Frederick Fellowes.
The seventies-inspired costumes designed by Christina Bullard set the scene nicely; the ensembles for the up and coming performers featured some blinding plaids and the Farrah wig for one of the men.
The audience at the Sunday matinee enjoyed the production as much as I did and we never stopped laughing. Don’t miss that there are two programs in the book handed to you by the usher, one for the CRT production and a cheeky one for the embedded play ‘Nothing On.’ Be forewarned that there is a 15 minute intermission, and a two-minute break before the final act.
Pictured: L to R: Gavin McNicholl, Jennifer Cody, Michael Doherty and Arlene Bozich in NOISES OFF by Michael Frayn onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through June 25. Photo by Gerry Goodstein