Review: You’ll Be Hard-Pressed To Find A Flaw In ‘Noises Off’

CHAUTAUQUA — Roaring laughter billowed from the aisles of Bratton Theater on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution, Saturday, during the opening performance of Michael Frayn 1982 comedy farce “Noises Off.”

The production launches the 34th season of the Chautauqua Theater Company and features the extremely talented Guest and Conservatory Actors with equally commendable performances. This “play-within-a play,” entitled “Nothing On” is a sex farce about sardines, doors and love geometry staged in three acts that contains a performance of the first act of the play that repeats in humorous succession from different vantage points. History reveals that playwright Frayn was watching a production from the wings and remarked, “It was funnier from behind than in front and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.” It was expanded from a one-act play called “Exits,” penned in 1977. “Noises Off,” takes it title from the stage direction indicating sounds coming offstage.

The play begins one afternoon outside of London in a 16th century mill under the scenic design of Tom Buderwitz which contained leaded windows, authentic upright beams, articulated carpeted stairs, grained railings, seven doors, vintage and noble furnishings of autumn hue — a love seat, armchair, Persian rug, coffee table, phone, portable TV and buffeted bar. A phone rings and Mrs. Clackett enters mid-center. Clackett is the cockney housekeeper for Phillip Brent, a playwright and his wife, Flavia who are in Spain to avoid taxation. Carol Halstead skillfully portrayed Clackett as the slow-witted and slow-moving chatterbox. Bravo for the consistent accent start to finish and characterization. Halstead was hilarious. The costume design by Angela Calin included red hair French twist, coordinating bow, stark pointed lips, bright patterned green dress, checked apron, vintage hosiery and industrial tie shoes.

Voices from the rear of the audience resonated from Lloyd Dallas, the director of “Nothing On” (the play-within-a play). This is actually the final dress rehearsal or is it the technical rehearsal. Regardless it is midnight, the play opens tomorrow, and tension is building. Clackett is obviously frustrated trying to sequence the phone, a plate of sardines and her exit. Craig Wesley Divino portrayed the temperamental, exacting and sarcastic director screaming “put the receiver back and leave the sardines.” When heated he would drop a few “F” bombs and jump on stage for closer direction. Divino’s character was realistic and tight. Any stage director can relate to the actors requests to change blocking, delivery, timing, etc.

As the rehearsal proceeds there are sequencing/timing issues with exits and entrances between Gary Lejeune, an estate agent, and his companion Brooke Ashton who enters and begins the pandemonium of doors.

They are obviously heated and looking for relief. Gary, who is the play’s leading man, is completely incapable of finishing a sentence other than dialogue and frequently stutters. Patrick Foley used his bright eyes and bobbling curly hair as an extension of his character as he wore the three-piece suit as Gary who was trying to make a deal with Brooke (Kelsey Jension). Jension, a Conservatory actor stole the show as the ditzy blonde, descending curls, shocking pink polka-dot dress, vintage stockings and spike heels who was a choreographed robot, executing every directed gesture and blocked pose like Vanna White on steroids. She was beautiful inside and out. Brooke would loose her contacts often as she batted around her mascaraed lashes. Her poses, mannerisms and dumb-blonde blank looks made the audience double over in laughter each and every time with increasing gut pain assured. Jension was amazing in this role. Bravos to infinity.

More sardines and more doors continue when Phillip and Flavia Brent sneak home for a secluded anniversary rendezvous excited to be alone in there home. Yonaton Gebeyehu was consistent in his role as Phillip costumed to the nines with stylish blazer, linen slacks, ascot, pocket square and argyle socks with vintage garters, noted with his felled pants. Gebeyehu added some comic relief with his serious fear of violence and blood. Maggie Mason portrayed the not-so-domestic role of Flavia tastefully costumed in a satin periwinkle structured dress, flared overcoat, and red box hat and heels.

The rehearsal stress for “Nothing On” rises, as does the speed of the doors that open and close quickly or don’t open or close. The burglar Selsdon is often not found for his entrances usually partnered with a bottle someplace off stage. John Seidman mastered this comedic role. Lloyd, the director of the play-within-a play frequently summons the assistance of play-within-a play stage manager Emily Daly and assistant stage manager Will Harrison as under studies, stand-ins and gophers. Daly was energetic in her role that blossomed as the acts transpired. She obviously enjoyed geometry with a surprise summation. Harrison was very versatile in his roles that varied from set repairs, understudy for Selsdon and personal assistant for Lloyd. Harrison had good stage presence and clean delivery. It was humorous when Daly and Harrison were providing audience announcements in conflicting sequence.

Act Two takes place one month later when “Nothing On” is opening and running. This is a matinee performance that is viewed from backstage revealing the other side of the entrances/exits including escape stairs, prop placement, hanging mirrors, waiting benches and the emergency fire ax and bucket. The geometry of relationships spark arguments, jealousy that rebounds with missed entrances, displaced props and pranks. These shenanigans continue backstage as the audience views the front of the stage through the leaded windows.

In Act Three things go from bad to worse as the play-within-a play is once viewed from the front and at the top of the show with Mrs. Clackett, sardines, the phone, doors, failed entrances, buffed lines, ad-libbing and cover-ups. The show eventually ends with a booming curtain call for a superior job well done by all. Andrew Borba, artistic director, was very skilled with establishing an excellent pace with impeccable timing and great casting. The public would be hard-pressed to find a flaw in this production. Noteworthy was the scenic design by Buderwitz for the front of the Brent home and the backstage detail accordingly. It was very cool how the stage managers moved through the scene in transitions that added greater excitement. The iris effect of the light build at the top of the show was visually significant, Scott Bolman, lighting designer, commended. Sound Designer was Rob Kaplowitz and costume design by, previously noted Angela Calin, was significant. A few dusts of dirt would bring more realism to Selsdon, the burglar and fit with his stated character description. The production team and running crew are equally commended for a job well done.

“Noises Off,” continues through July 16 at the Chautauqua Theater Company, Bratton Theater, Chautauqua Institution. Tickets are $35 and seating is reserved. Tickets can be purchased online at http://chq/theater-shows-tickets or by calling 357-6250. Single-event ticket is required, which also serves as a Chautauqua Institution gate pass four hours before and four hours following the start time of the performance.

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