Tony Award-winning actresses bring comedy back to off-Broadway
Roundabout Theatre Company, leading nonprofit theater company on Broadway, Roundabout Theater Company, is famous for its revivals of old plays and musicals. RTC is noted for taking those old pieces and transforming them into newly reimagined grand productions. Their new production of 1982 play. Noises Off is no exception.
This production opened on Jan. 24 at American Airlines Theater on 42nd Street, one of Broadway’s biggest theaters. The production features a truly stellar cast of Tony-Award-winners, including actress Andrea Martin, who was apart of the casts of Pippin, The Fiddler on the Roof, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Megan Hilty, known for her work in both Wicked and Smashed, and many other brilliant performers.
Noises Off is a brilliant situational comedy about the life of stage actors. The play takes its name from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage and is a three-act depiction of a group of eccentric performers trying to put together a show from scratch and amid chaos.
Falling into the category of farce, Noises Off is an epic pandemonium that will make even the most morose spectator shriek with hysterical laughter. In Act I, some critics might find the jokes cliche and even vulgar. But by Act II, it would be difficult to keep anybody from roaring. The reaction of the crowd is so lively, wild and impetuous, that audiences from other nearby Broadway shows could probably hear the Noises Off crowd. Broadway has not seen such reaction in quite a while. As actor Rob McClure says, “the reaction turns us on and inspires to give everything we have to the viewers.”
The play is structured in a very unorthodox manner. It is “a play within a play,” with all three acts being the renditions of the same one-act play called Hands On. Act I plays out the final dress rehearsal before the opening night, while Act II is the opening night—from the perspective of backstage. Finally, Act III is the same show, shown in its final leg. Each act gets even more chaotic as actors are facing the up-growing number of missed ques, backstage drama and initially broken equipment and props. The tension of the farce grows every scene like a comedic avalanche, which literally destroys the stage, leaving the broken hearts and broken stairs as a representation of it all in Act III.
Situational comedies are always the audience’s favorite spectacles; they are outrageously funny, relatable, dynamic and, most importantly, volatile. Noises Off lacks any theatrical and dramatic depth, which actually benefits the show because the audience truly sinks in and forgets about the burdens of the outside world. The show utilizes the elements of breaking the fourth wall, which contributes to how the audience relates to the characters; people in the house feel as if they are an essential part of the creative process, which they are, and become even more engaged.
However, behind all of this comedic ease, there actually lays a tremendous amount of work. American Airlines’ stage is very spacious, which makes the set humongous. The acclaimed director of last season’s Wolf Hall Parts 1&2, Jeremy Herrin, did a phenomenal job of properly blocking the mise-en-scènes and creating a picturesque image. Herrin also stages all of the most climactic moments in a fashion that captures and flows with the plot, giving the impression that the show does not stop—not even for a second.
The acting must also be praised. Shows like this require a lot of physical acting, both in body language and vocal articulation. The scale of the production also creates a lot of constant movement. Extreme over exaggeration of gestures and dialogues is the key that makes this show so energetic and dynamic. Some scenes are even physically dangerous, which show how dedicated the actors are to their art. Martin and David Furr’s performances deserve separate plaudits. They specifically brought a distinct liveliness and charm to their roles. Nevertheless, all actors work as a true ensemble; they do not block one another or try to hog the spotlight. Instead, they work as a one whole theatrical organism, which not only demonstrates the importance and relevance of each separate character but also emphasizes the distinct personality of each person on the stage as well.
Noises Off is a perfect comedy for a Friday night. It has everything that a comedy needs, plus a voluptuous and half-naked blonde bombshell and a lot of sardines flying across the stage. The script and the cast will melt each audience member’s heart and will leave them bedazzled and utterly satisfied. Even those skeptical of Broadway will enjoy this show, and that is a laurel most productions can only dream of.