Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 4, 2009

Noises Off

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through May 17, 2009
by Shera Cohen

"Noises Off" is either a director's dream or nightmare, depending if the fun of working such a production outweighs the torture of creating a play-within-a-play, three times. From the end result, it seems as if director Malcolm Morrison had a wonderful time, and took the audience along for the fast and furious joy ride. It is difficult enough for a good director to mold the script, actors, and crew into a successful play. Add on, purposeful bad directing of a pathetic play within the umbrella play. Confusing? Yes, and it works fabulously at Hartford Stage.

Before the lights dim, three clues let the audience know that this is a play(s) for laughs. There's the pompous British voice-over advising turning off cell phones, the playbill's cover is a misnomer including the hysterical bios of the pretend cast, and the set has 10 doors. Lots of doors equals farce - the more doors, the funnier the production.

The plot is a behind the scenes look at an English theatre troupe as they rehearse and then tour. The ensemble of nine actors begin their roller-coaster ride at a moderate pace, rev up to full throttle, and then to warp speed. It's hard to image that on some days, Hartford Stage mounts a matinee and evening show. The actors must be exhausted. The characters are caricatures. There's the proverbial dumb blonde, the funny drunk, mistaken identity, sexual innuendos, a burglar, love triangles, an IRS agent, and sardines. Props, particularly dead fish, are key to "Noises Off."

Scenic Designer Tony Straiges deserves endless kudos for his ingenious creation of two entirely different sets - the elegant "fake play," and the backstage 2-by-4 "real play." A line in the script credits actor "Tim" as having built the stage himself in just 48-hours. While Straiges' skills are obviously A+, he certainly had help from a very talented crew, and undoubtedly it took at least three days of hammering and drilling.

Physical humor, with a capital "P" and "H" abounds, from pratfalls to pantomime, dropping pants to (of course) slamming doors.