The Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance opened a lively rendition of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, directed by Joel Williams, on Wednesday night. A strong cast and crew delivered clever quips and slapstick comedy to give Valborg Theatre’s large audience a night full of grins, chuckles, and outright guffaws.
Noises Off is a frenzied, but witty, backstage farce. The play-within-the-play, Nothing On, is a sex comedy that becomes increasingly bad as it progresses towards its ridiculous climax, with an overabundance of entrances and exits, lost clothing, and sardines. The audience sees the disastrous final dress of Nothing On, then a performance from the wings, and then once again from the house. The plotlines are interwoven until backstage drama becomes onstage comedy.
The even casting of this production was especially praiseworthy. None of the nine characters dominated the stage, making for a well-sustained level of energy throughout the entire play. In truth, it was the interactions between characters that became the real stars of this production. The complex flirtations and lovers’ quarrels were masterfully portrayed, especially the Lloyd-Poppy-Brooke love triangle played by Ryan Sheehe, Christina Wheeler, and Kellie Letner, respectively. Madeline Hintz (Dotty) came into her own in the third act, while Paige Borden (Belinda) shone especially during her heroic and comic efforts to keep the show on the road. Morgan Stewart (Selsdon) portrayed a melodramatic burglar with a delightful cackle. The exasperated and overworked stage manager, Tim, was played to perfection by Tyler Kleckner.
One of the most interesting elements of this work is the inherent shifting that occurs onstage between a character and a character playing a character. The shifts in accents and speech patterns were consistently strong. Jack Lafferty (Frederick) is, like his character, actually from Scotland, which certainly adds an unmistakable layer of authenticity to his lilting phrasing. All of the actors, however, worked the constant shifts to great comedic advantage.
Frayn’s writing includes several layers of humor. Williams’ take on the production emphasized the slapstick elements of this riotous farce, occasionally at the expense of the more sophisticated references. Unfortunately, elements of physical humor were inconsistent. Some moments, including Will Allen’s (Gary) tumble down the stairs, were painfully convincing. Others were less realistic. The pacing in Act II was hectic and remained so throughout. While the level of backstage chaos was amusing, it peaked too early in the act.
The costuming by Martha Marking was excellent, and the set design by Mike Helms creative and effective, especially the choice of Tudor-inspired split-level architecture. Lighting, designed by Tim Snyder, remained tasteful and subtle throughout the show, except during Tim’s apology speech in the third act. The “technical difficulties” during that segment were perfectly cringe-worthy. Pre- and post-show music, selections from The Producers and Annie Get Your Gun, caused its own share of grins and giggles.
It may be Homecoming weekend in the High Country, but it is highly recommended that those out and about Boone come and support these students. Giggles guaranteed.
Noises Off continues through Sunday, October 7. For more information on this production, please view the sidebar.