Professional Pratfalls, Doors and Sardines Make Noises Off a Must-See Show

Reviewer: Lisa Purchase

Venue: Malcolm Field Theatre

Saginaw Valley State University expertly navigates the potential pitfalls of the complex comedy  Noises Off. Director Tommy Wedge keeps the capable cast moving through this frantic farce,  and keeps the audience’s attention glued to the stage like … like a plate of sardines. This is a  comedy build with mathematical precision, and like cogs in clockwork these actors fit each  action and response perfectly into place to keep the whole thing ticking inexorably forward. 

First produced in 1982, Noises Off (by playwright Michael Frayn) is a farce within a play within a  farce. I think. To start with, each actor is playing a character who is … playing a character. We  first see a (very late, very bad) dress rehearsal of a play, then in Act II we see behind the scenes  during a later production of that same play, and finally in Act III we see the onstage results of  the offstage hijinx in the show’s final run.  

Jerry Dennis’ beautifully realized two-story set is the linchpin that makes this whole concept  come together as the entire “house” pivots between acts; a 22’ x 8’ platform (flanked by two  smaller independent pieces) that smoothly rotates a 2000 lb. set on 20 casters. This delightful  transition gives us the normal stage view of the inside of a house where the action takes place,  then flips to the bare backside of that set. At that point we see the “curtain” rise at the back of  the stage and hear the “audience” murmuring back there, where “they” are now “watching the  play” and seeing the front of the set, while we are “backstage” bearing witness to the panicked  pantomime of actors trying to keep the show and their personal lives from going off the rails.  The set flips back again for us to watch the final hilarious death-throes of the dysfunctional  comedy as the characters struggle just to survive till the finish line. 

It’s an ensemble cast, and each actor proved up to the task of carrying this precise and  demanding show. Scout McCullouch and Austin Butterfield take the lead as Dotty/Mrs.  Clackett (the housekeeper in the “show”) and Director Lloyd Dallas. We’re introduced to them  as she’s onstage flubbing her exit and he starts shouting stage directions at her from behind  us. They are joined by the other actors in the “play”: Alex Kulmacz and Emma-Gene Pichan as  Garry and Brooke, who are “playing” Roger & Vicki, and Noah Johnson and Dana Samalik as  Frederick and Belinda, who are “playing” Phillip & Flavia. As they all miss cues and question  their lines, the Director screams for the Assistant Stage Manager (Poppy, played by Paige  Tuckerman) and Stage manager (the beleaguered Tim, played by Alex Dubowski). Finally they  all search for Selsdon (played by Isabel Losa), the resident drunk who may or may not be  counted on to play The Burglar. They all kept up the pace with precision, expertly dropping  lines or entrances or plates of sardines at the exact moment to take the chaos up a level. With  nearly every entrance, exit, and line happening right on top of another one, this is no small feat,  and even more impressive to make it look so natural, as if it were all indeed happenstance. 

Then there’s the love triangles … or parallelograms. The “onstage” couples don’t mesh with the  backstage couples, and when Dotty and Brooke perceive that Director Lloyd is romancing both  of them the battle lines are drawn. 

A farce necessitates lots of slamming doors and falling down, and this production has plenty of  both. As the audience takes their seats, they are left to contemplate a multitude of doorways  cramming the set, and soon the fast-paced action becomes a dizzying puzzle as we try to  remember who went where and anticipate who or what might pop out from behind Door #1 (or  #2, or #5, or #8 … or through the windows!). Various cast members took really professional 

pratfalls. Some stand-outs of physical comedy were Noah Johnson’s Frederick/Phillip, who  managed to portray sardines and paperwork glued to both hands while careening around the  stage with his pants ‘round his ankles, and repeatedly fainted at the thought of violence. Alex  Kulmacz did a superb job of falling down the stairs on more than one occasion, and Emma Gene Pichan and Noah Johnson each flipped face-first over the couch with hilarious ease. At  one point the whole cast looked like they were engaged in a slow-motion game of Twister while  they searched for the inevitably lost contact onstage. 

This is one of the most enjoyable comedies ever to exist, and this director and cast do it  justice. Noises Off is an absolute landmark of comedy, and everyone should see it at least once  … if you have not seen it (or even if you have), please go directly to SVSU’s website and  purchase tickets. The show runs Thursday (tonight), Friday, and Saturday (February 22, 23, &  24) at 7:30pm, and Sunday February 25 at 3:00pm at the Malcolm Ford Theatre at SVSU. There  is no terrible weather predicted this weekend, so you should just make plans to go. You’ll be  glad you did.  

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door, or online at https://www.svsu.edu/theatre/.)

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