“Noises Off” starts slow but builds to lunatic delight

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"Noises Off" at Two River Theater photos by T. Charles Erickson

Michael Frayn’s Noises Off at Two River Theatre

Two River Theatre in Red Bank starts the new year with a revival of a masterful modern farce, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. It’s a hodgepodge of backstage romances, misplaced props, fire axes, sheiks, whiskey bottles, tax exiles, nosebleeds, and a good plate of sardines. And after a slow start while we get the lay of the land, it skitters off on its own lunatic way to comic chaos.

The cast of "Noises Off" at Two River Theater photos by T. Charles Erickson
The cast of “Noises Off” at Two River Theater photos by T. Charles Erickson

It is impossible to describe a show like this without bogging down in detail and running the risk of exposing any surprises. I’ll just say that the first act is at the final dress rehearsal of Nothing On, a very typical and not very good British sex farce with a less than first-rate cast preparing for a tour of the countryside. The first scene of act two is set backstage during a performance one month later, with relationships starting to fray. Small acts of sabotage and revenge become a well-timed comic ballet. The second scene is set toward the end of the run two months later, with its performance a complete shambles and cast morale at rock bottom.

The set is superb and actor Tim Allgood stands out

Scene from "Noises Off" at Two River Theater. Photos by T. Charles Erickson
Scene from “Noises Off” at Two River Theater. Photos by T. Charles Erickson
Scene from "Noises Off" at Two River Theater. Photos by T. Charles Erickson
Scene from “Noises Off” at Two River Theater. Photos by T. Charles Erickson

The star of the show is Charlie Corcoran’s superb two-sided set. One side is the living room set of Nothing On, a perfect example of a small English country home. At intermission, the set revolves 180 degrees to reveal the backstage area of the theatre, including the back side of the living room set, then revolves back for the end of the play.

While the cast is quite good — much better than the actors they portray — it is Phillip Taratula’s performance as stage manager Tim Allgood that stands out. Noteworthy performances were also given by Jason O’Connell as Frederick Fellowes, prone to nosebleeds at the first sign of conflict, and Adrianna Mitchell as Brooke Ashton, perhaps the dimmest actress ever to appear on the British stage.

It’s unusual to mention the program booklet for a show. However, tucked away inside the Two River Theatre’s program is another program. This one is for Nothing On, being presented at the Grand Theatre of the town of Weston-super-Mare, and it is a comic treat in its own right.

As I mentioned before, the first act is slow, but it’s setting up the groundwork for all the lunacy to follow. While Noises Off is indeed a wicked farce, there’s a part of it that’s a loving nod at all the second-rate actors trouping around the hinterlands in not-quite-top-drawer material looking to bring entertainment to their audiences. If you’re looking for a good laugh on a chilly evening, you will have a lot of fun watching Nothing On — and Noises Off.

Noises Off is presented by Two River Theatre at the Rechnitz Theatre in Red Bank through February 3, 2019. For tickets and information, visit tworivertheater.org.