Anyone familiar with theater knows that a flubbed line or misplaced prop has the potential to stop a show in its tracks.
It’s these mistakes — a dropped contact lens, a misplaced plate of sardines and tied-together shoelaces, to name a few — that make PlayMakers Repertory Company’s rendition of “Noises Off” a fast-paced and technically complex success that shines with expert choreography and near-flawless execution.
In the first act of Michael Frayn’s play-within-a-play, we meet a troupe of sub-par actors rehearsing for a door-slamming sex farce, “Nothing On.” The director, played with delightful cynicism by Jeffrey Blair Cornell, sits among the audience, calling down orders as his actors miss their entrances, question their characters’ motivations and forget their lines hours before opening night.
The rhythm feels a bit hit-or-miss as we watch “Nothing On” fall to pieces for the first time, but it provides a successful introduction to the eccentric cast of characters who truly come to life in the second act.
Susan Cella wonderfully plays the ever-forgetful Dotty as she searches for her misplaced plate of sardines.
Katie Paxton dutifully mixes an air of inexperience and ditziness in her portrayal of Brooke Ashton, who faithfully plows through her lines as the play falls to pieces around her.
McKay Coble’s brilliant set flips in the second act, and we see the actors backstage as they prepare for their first performance, destined from the start to be a disaster. From either side, Coble’s scenery stands out for its attention to detail and its pure sturdiness — the doors slammed with such frequency it’s a surprise nothing broke.
The second act roars along at breakneck speed as the actors fly through doors quickly enough to make your head spin. The energy is infectious during this fast-paced portion of expertly choreographed chaos that runs like a well-oiled machine.
The beauty of this show is its balance. Even as everything is falling apart for the characters, the energy and cohesion the cast brings creates a hilarious and acrobatic tour de force that’s nothing short of impressive.
There is no clear star of the show, which makes it even better. Each character asserts himself or herself throughout the production, but the best parts come when everyone’s onstage at once. There’s a sense of teamwork that’s expertly executed, creating a momentum that, when clicking, is infinitely watchable and guaranteed to paste a permanent grin on your face.
The stage turns back around for act three as we prepare to watch the disastrous “Nothing On” for the final time. The laughter hardly stopped for 30 minutes as the audience watched “Nothing On” with a deeper understanding of how the off-stage antics produced the on-stage mayhem. Andrea Cirie’s line “Oh, another unexpected guest” is pitch perfect as her character, Belinda, tries to keep the show on track as yet another actor misses his cue.
This chaotic show will make you laugh, but it’s the incredible energy and technical expertise that makes “Noises Off” excellent.
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