The Brits have an uncanny knack for creating comedy laden with slapstick physicality and shameless sexual innuendo. What’s more, American theatergoers can’t seem to get enough of it. Michael Frayn’s madcap farce Noises Off is proof-positive: it’s 36 years old and still going strong on both professional and community theater stages. A revival was even running on Broadway as recently as two years ago.
So how can Coronado’s Lamb’s Players Theatre go wrong with its own production of Noises Off? Answer: It doesn’t. The combination of Robert Smyth’s direction and Jordan Miller’s choreography (not of dancing but of breathless climbing and descending of stairs, and impeccably timed slamming of doors) guarantees a giddily frantic pace and an exhausting onslaught of sight gags – absolute musts for Noises Off.
Smyth and Miller have an indefatigable cast (stylishly costumed by Jeanne Reith) to work with, too: Deborah Gilmour Smyth, Brian Mackey, Charlene Wilkinson, Fran Gercke, Ross Hellwig, Jessica John, Cynthia Gerber, Jim Chovik and Omri Schein (the latter, alas, under-used here). The actors are having so much fun not taking any of this seriously that the audience can’t help but go along.
Noises Off concerns the staging in the 1970s of an English touring show by playwright “Robin Housemonger” provocatively titled Nothing On. Act One of Noises Off is weakened by a lot of arguably extraneous exposition and establishment of character. But Act Two, in which the “stage” is turned around and the Lamb’s audience sees the characters from a backstage perspective, is fast, furious and riotous. (Credit goes to scenic designer Mike Buckley and to the Lamb’s crew that moves things around during intermissions.) In Act Three, Nothing On comes all undone and silliness prevails.
Along the way, Mackey tumbles down stairs. Hellwig and Chovik lose their trousers. Gilmour Smyth sits in sardines. Wilkinson loses contact lenses and stares numbly into space. Gercke (as the show’s reluctant director) gesticulates as though guiding planes from runway to gate. There’s a total absence of tension or pretense, which accounts in part for Noises Off’s enduring charm and popularity. (Review originally published in San Diego CityBeat on 4/18/18.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat