If you read my review a few months ago of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” currently running on Broadway, I mentioned that it is kindred to Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off.” If you didn’t know what I was talking about, or if you can’t afford to go to Broadway, or if you’ve already seen “The Play That Goes Wrong,” or if you just want a really enjoyable night of local theater, then go see Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s production of “Noises Off,” playing at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through Sunday, June 25.
The second show of the CT Rep’s 2017 Nutmeg Summer Series, “Noises Off” is highly entertaining, pure comic farce, and more humor than what can be packed in a can of sardines.
This play within a play is about a less than professional British theater company struggling through the tour of a production of a sex comedy called “Nothing On.”
It begins on the eve of opening night and it is apparent that the show is far from ready. Dotty Otley (Jennifer Cody) can’t get her stage directions right, Selsdon Mowbray (Steve Hayes) is a drunken lout who can’t remember his lines, Frederick Fellowes (Gavin McNicholl) doesn’t understand what his character is doing because the script is a mess, and Brooke Ashton (Jayne Ng) is sleeping with the director Lloyd Dallas (John Bixler) and couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag.
Of course, an actor sleeping with the director does not lend to good actor relations. That coupled with jealousy and other relationship issues within the cast and crew creates two of the funniest acts ever written for theater with the zany, self-destruction that follows in Acts 2 and 3.
The show is entirely dependent on the adaptability and agility of its cast and CT Rep’s cast fly through the show marvelously.
In Act 2, when we see the show from the backstage side of the action, the whole ensemble hits their moments with precision and Vincent J. Cardinal’s direction of the mayhem doesn’t get so over the top that you don’t lose track of what is happening with the characters’ relationships.
Act 1 though does suffer through some problems. At times, the cast isn’t quite able to jump from the characters they play to the characters their characters play in “Nothing On.” This creates a bit of confusion as to what each character is doing, but ultimately the intent from Frayn’s text is defined enough that the relationships are clear.
Aside from that, “Noises Off” is great. The relationships do end up being clearly defined by the end of the opening act, making the following two acts easy to follow.
Tim Brown’s set design is excellent. There are a few inessential details that will be missed depending on where you’re sitting in the theater, but look at those details as Easter eggs that you can spot as the show moves along; not essential to any storytelling, but a gratifying observation here and there that add to the hysteria.
The performances are all great. Cody gives Dotty a spunkiness that is a bit different than other incarnations of the role that I’ve seen, but it works. Hayes nails Selsdon, giving him a pitiful, almost tragic quality, especially when he chases down a bottle of whiskey in the second act.
Michael Doherty and Grace Allyn are splendid as the beleaguered stage crew Tim Allgood and Poppy Norton-Taylor; granted they are both responsible for their own share of mayhem that occurs throughout.
“Noises Off” is given a great service by CT Rep. I am beginning to wish that CT Rep ran their productions longer because more time is needed for the public to see the quality shows they have put on so far this summer.