English playwright Michael Frayn’s 1982 farce Noises Off is a classic tongue-in-cheek comedy that lives up to the definition of the genre, complete with innuendos, provocative positions and slamming doors. Syracuse Shakespeare Festival presents the romp this weekend at the New York State Fairgrounds’ Empire Theater for three final performances: Friday, Feb. 17, and Saturday, Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m., and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Feb. 19.
The three-act, nearly three-hour show, directed by Dan Stevens, does justice to Frayn’s genius, showcasing the concept of a play within a play. Of course, the British comedy features typical elements such as scantily clad women, exaggerated actions and constant run-on jokes to push the scenes along.
The plot is simple yet complex. Director Lloyd Dallas (Tony Brown) is trying to get his sex farce Nothing On sorted out the night before its debut. The duo backing up Dallas, Poppy Norton-Taylor (Sara Caliva) and Tim Allgood (Joshua Harris), are trying to feed the actors lines and keep them in line.
Many details are revealed in the first act, such as the inarticulate Gary Lejeune (Strange David Fuller) is having a fling with the dryly apathetic Dotty Otley (Nora O’Dea), while naïve and self-absorbed Brooke Ashton (Kimberly Grader) is in a love triangle between Dallas and Norton-Taylor.
While duplicitous Belinda Blair (Jenn DeCook) tries to stay positive and still extract the juicy details of everyone’s personal relationships, Frederick Fellowes (Albert Marshall) consistently gets nosebleeds when the tension gets out of control. And lastly there is Selsdon Mowbray (Navroz Dabu), an aging actor frequently missing.
Frayn’s work both plays into the art and frustration of writing and performance, and delightfully exposes human nature and egos getting in the way, ultimately preventing something from working out smoothly.
The second act takes place a month later. As the matinee show plays out, the audience gets the treat of seeing the action take place behind the set. During the first intermission, the parts of the set are turned around. The majority of the dialogue heard is the performance of Nothing On. The cast relies on the nonverbal, exaggerated slapstick action to emphasize the drama.
The actors have to harness the snappy humor and quick delivery that should exhaust a brain, but the nonverbal antics should evoke a sense of exhaustion, too. And by the third act, where everything goes to hell, when the characters stop caring and are fed up, the actual actors should play to their most disheveled potential.
This Syracuse Shakespeare Festival production fills the stage well and even spills out into the seating at the Empire Theater. The company has cleverly incorporated another non-Bard show into their repertoire, and the result isn’t anything you’d slam a door about. Well, maybe, because the constant action grows addicting.
Tickets range from $8 to $30. For more information, call 476-1835 or visit syrsf.org.