The idea for the the hilarious British farce “NOISES OFF” was born in 1970 when English playwright Michael Frayn was standing in the wings watching a performance of a farce that he had written. According to the playwright, “It was funnier from behind than in front and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.” Thus, more than a decade later was born the play that would become an international hit about a second-rate theatrical touring company.
We first saw a production of “Noises Off” when we lived in London in 1993. Later, in 2009 we saw it again here in New Jersey at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison. Last night we saw it again at The Barn theatre in Montville. If you don’t know the theatre…it is an award-winning community theatre blessed with an enormous group of very talented actors and support staff, all, of course, volunteers (translation: no pay…you work for the love of the theatre). They perform in a first rate theatre with a barn like structure that is the envy of many professional companies.
We saw a stunning production of “NOISES OFF” with a wonderfully talented cast out Marx-ing the Marx Brothers at their madcap, door slamming, door opening wild best. Plus a most impressive moveable set far above what might be expected from a community theatre of non-professionals. But of course, this is The Barn Theatre that has for many years (85th season) won raves for the quality of its productions, certainly equal to Off-Broadway and very often better. Now I must point out that last night was “Noises Off” final performance of a run that started three weeks ago.
What you say? This writer is reviewing a play that is striking its remarkable five-piece set as you read this! Yes, all true, but unfortunately the phethora of openings and family obligations this month prevented an earlier visit. Are we glad that the good folks at The Barn Theatre kindly extended the invitation knowing, of course, that this review would appear after the closing.
The ringmaster for this laugh-packed, fast-paced farce is the director Tom Blewitt. He has assembled a marvelous group of actors who demonstrate excellent physical comedy skills. “Noises Off” is the tale of a British touring theater company as it holds a disastrous final dress rehearsal of a sex farce “Nothing On.” No-one seems prepared for opening night that is in less than 24 hours. They are missing cues, mishandling props (the sardines and the telephone in particular) and, the greatest sin of all, don’t remember their lines.
The temperamental director Lloyd Davis (David Romankow) has more than his hands full dealing with this slightly wacky cast including: a demanding middle-aged leading lady, Dotty Otley, who is also a show investor (Cheryl Marocco Bookstaver); Freddy (Christopher J. Perez); a vain leading man whose nose bleeds at the slightest provocation Garry (Doug McLauglin) an easily excited actor who repeatedly tries to attack Freddy believing that Dotty is cheating on him; the emotional and overly-sensitive assistant stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Jess Prekel); the young inexperienced actress from London, Brooke (Sarah Pollara) possibly a porn star, who wears nothing but a black undergarment for much of the show; Selsdon (William Horwitz) an alcoholic has-been, expert at missing both cues and lines, but excels at locating stashed whiskey bottles; the sensible Belinda (Erin Comer) and last, but far from least, the tireless stage manager Tim (Nick Wolf) who struggles to contain the lunacy around him while trying to get the show on.
Again, the cast is terrific, with the two actors in the leading roles…Cheryl Marocco Bookstaver, as the wacky Dotty and Doug McLaughlin as Garry were particularly impressive. This was a very, very funny event.
We can’t close without a tip of the hat to director Tom Blewitt’s support staff: Anthony Rubolotta – producer; Omar Kozarsky – stage manager; Micah Lewis – assistant stage manager; Gregory Cilmi – set designer; Todd Mills – set design/construction; Laura Kennedy – set décor; Larry Wilbur – lighting designer; Jeff Knapp – sound design; Claudia Metz – properties; Christine Morgan – costume design; Rachel Persenair – hair/makeup.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio September 29, 2012
The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For reservations to future productions, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn on the web at www.barntheatre.org.