Oh Thank Heavens This Noises Off Doesn't Suck

Before stepping into the American Airlines Theater, home to the now-open Noises Off, consider this…Noises Off is always at risk of sucking big time.

No, really. Michael Frayn's old-school farce is far from the bottom of the barrel, but the writing itself can’t stand on its own no matter how hard it wants to. The commentary on theatrical showbiz isn’t revelatory - OF COURSE some shows are hot mess expresses in the lead-up to the first preview, OF COURSE there is backstage shenanigans and OF COURSE the director with the high self-regard is banging every female in sight.

Throw in a slate of characters that have no development, an ending with barely any resolution and all that is left to work with here is an admittedly cool (if repetitive) conceit of watching the same "play within a play" from different vantage points (the final dress rehearsal, a matinee as seen from backstage and an evening show viewed from the audience’s perspective) and broad, slapstick and physical comedy gags…

Concerned? Understandably so.

But discernible quality from any production of Noises Off is garnered by solid direction and an ensemble going for broke and hauling ass (in some instances, I mean that literally). That is when Noises Off can tap into its potential and be a nice, little funny throwback. Jeremy Herrin’s direction here is close to impeccable as the mishaps and hi-jinx just keep on snowballing until the mise-en-scene is an eye-searing, retina-scaring pile of WTF and LOLZ. It’s overwhelming, but not to a fault. In fact, its downright impressive that every actor’s movement, every prop use (and plate of sardines)…just about everything is so tightly wound and polished for a show that’s akin to a boiling pot of crazy.

Admittedly, the first act is a slow start to the proceedings. But that’s where the talented cast starts digging into their roles and somewhat surprisingly, it is Megan Hilty to the rescue. Who knew she had such a knack for broad comedy? Because I certainly didn’t and she made me a believer in 0.7 nanoseconds. Her portrayal of Brooke - the wide-eyed actress with a befuddled disposition, awkward posing and bad-good acting - is HILARIOUS from the get-go. And this is all before she starts losing her contact lenses and resorts to crawling on the floor and stairs to retrieve them, all of which had me hunched over and ‘losing it’ in my seat. Megan also looks really pretty, between the print dress she first steps out in and the vintage, pin-up lingerie she eventually dons.

Oh, but the second and third acts…the GLORIOUSLY bonkers second and third acts, the former of which is basically wordless and looks like an old-fashioned, silent-film comedy. This is where every cast member stands out, as individuals and contributing to the collective ensemble, and take Noises Off to the next frontier. You can actually follow the basic template of the ‘story’ (whatever plot is there) sans any dialogue, but whatever...the shenanigans are what we came for. Andrea Martin, Jeremy Shamos, David Furr, Daniel Davis, Campbell Scott and Tracee Chimo all combine forces and kick ass trying to keep all 1,854 plates in the air. Martin and Shamos, in particular, are comedic treasures as the number of fucks they give decrease by the second. Even the relatively mitigated parts, Belinda and Tim, are portrayed perfectly by Kate Jennings Grant and Rob McClure respectively. Grant actually commands some focus trying to coral the cray cray and McClure is just awesome and never lets up on the frenetic energy or twitchy anxiety.

Nice job cast, creative and crew - enjoy your next few months of insanity. Don’t hurt yourselves though with all the tumbling, falling, ax tossing and cactus throwing!

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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