May 20, 2022

Art & Lifestyle:

Players’ Production Is ‘Gloriously Silly’

By Michelle Ebert Freire

Ax-wielding jilted lovers. Cactus injuries. Underwear. And slamming doors. So. Many. Doors.

Forty years after it opened on Broadway, Michael Frayn’s farce “Noises Off” continues to delight as the Newtowne Players brings the madcap antics to the Three Notch Theatre in a gloriously silly production.

To set the scene for those unfamiliar this modern classic, “Noises Off” introduces us to a group of second-rate theater folks mounting a touring production of a sex farce aptly titled “Nothing On.” We first meet them around midnight, desperately trying to get through a final rehearsal before their first performance the next evening. But the actors keep bringing rehearsal to a halt.

Dotty, the has-been veteran, keeps forgetting when to bring her sardine props on and off the stage. Freddy, the sensitive dimwit, insists on understanding his character’s motivation for every line. Brooke, the sexpot, repeatedly loses her contact lenses. And they all have to keep an eye out for sweet, ancient Selsden, who is prone to roam out of the theater to get soused. Rounding out the company is Gary, the leading man (who is as full of himself as he is of hot air); Belinda, the cast gossip; Poppy, the dumping ground of a stage manager; Tim, the overworked and exhausted stagehand; and Lloyd, the beleaguered (and philandering) director.

After witnessing this final rehearsal, we get the unique opportunity to check in on the company a couple of months later, when they are well into their tour — but this time, we watch the action from backstage.

The tour has not treated this group well: romantic triangles have resulted in jealousy, backstabbing, “Three’s Company”-type misunderstandings, and Three Stooges-worthy slapstick. And this is where the fun really begins, as the play going on behind the curtain is much more entertaining than the one in front of it. By the third act, the tour is almost over, and the company has totally lost it, presenting a disaster of a play that is now entirely different from the one we saw rehearsed.

In the New York Times’ 1982 review of “Noises Off,” Frank Rich declares, “The most calamitous nights in the theater can be almost as memorable as the most successful. It’s strangely involving to watch actors struggle heroically in a ludicrous play.”

Newtowne’s production is anything but calamitous. Comedy is hard work, and this cast of actors makes it look easy. They balance the precise physicality and timing with fully realized characters. Comic characters themselves don’t know they’re funny. They take themselves very seriously — which makes us laugh all the more.

Sarah Pollard, who plays the ditzy Brooke, explains, “I went into developing Brooke knowing I didn’t want her to be a throwaway character. I wanted to portray her as a real person. I tried to give Brooke thought processes that motivate her movements and facial expressions, even when she appears spaced out.” Each character in this production is portrayed with depth and detail, and the staging is tightly choreographed (so that no one gets whacked by an ax or breaks their ankle when they are required to fall down the stairs).

Audiences will definitely pick up on the real chemistry these actors have achieved.

Kate Larsson, who plays put-upon Poppy, says, “I think they will enjoy how well the cast clicks. We are just having so much fun on stage, and it definitely shows in how we are performing, and I think the audience will love that.”

Each actor — Noah Busby, Neil Compton, Allison Dodges, Kenny Faison, Rachael Howell, Michael Jones, Larsson, Pollard, and Richard Schanck — delivers spot-on individual performances, but it is their work together that makes this production special. Director Randy Tusing is so pleased with this ensemble that he told them, “I need to find a show with 10 actors so that I can be up there on stage with the nine of you!”

They are greatly assisted by Chris Maulden’s impressive set.

Those who have been to Three Notch Theatre are familiar with its revolving floor, and Maulden takes advantage of this unique feature to present both the onstage and backstage areas of the play-within-a-play. Rosann Stamper’s 30+ props get wielded, cemented to bodies, and sat-upon, and Kristina Faison and Brittainy North’s costumes look fantastic on (and off!) the actors.

“Noises Off” runs through May 8, with Thursday-Saturday performances at 8 pm and Sunday performances at 3:30 pm, at the Three Notch Theatre at 21744 South Coral Drive in Lexington Park. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors/students/military $15, and $13 for children (although you may want to hire a sitter for this one). Thursday tickets are all $13.

For reservations, click here or call 301-737-5447.

Now more than ever, reemerging after an enforced two-year hiatus, what better way to celebrate the return of theater than to poke some good-natured fun at it?

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