The classic farce goes behind the scenes of what might be the worst show ever. Harlequin’s production of it is slapstick that’s as smart, and funny, as it gets. Noises Off runs in Olympia through February 8.
How about the words, love? Am I getting some of them right?
Some of them have a very familiar ring.
To exasperated director Lloyd Dallas (Alexander Samuels), blustering actor Dotty Otley (Lisa Viertel) might be the last straw. If not, there’ll be plenty more where that came from.
In Noises Off, the 1982 farcical play-about-a-play by Michael Frayn, the troupe of Nothing On runs like a well-oiled machine.
The lead (Viertel) can’t remember whether to leave the newspaper and take the plate of sardines, or vice versa, and drags half of the rotary phone off with her instead.
Another actor is prone to ill-timed nosebleeds and fainting, while his character-wife fusses, fruitlessly trying to fix him up. (Those are real-life couple Aaron Lamb and Helen Harvester, on staff at Harlequin — and it’s fun to see them out on stage.)
The loafish burglar (Rich Hawkins) might not make his entrance at all.
The stage managers (Megan Ahiers, rocking a fierce fanny pack, and Nicholas Main) can’t organize their behind-the-scenes chaos, let alone what’s coming out on stage.
And no one can remember their lines, save the worst actor in the place (played by Rebecca Cort), who overplays every line and punctuates with an exaggerated hip-jut. As actors (chiefly that played by Jason Haws) pepper the hapless director with questions about the playwright’s original intent, she tunes out, brushes her hair, and checks out her ass in the mirror, responding to every question posed to her with a vapid, “Sorry?”.
To calm his perturbed nerves, the director pulls from a flask while perched on stage.
And opening’s only a night away.
Noises Off is a play for which there’s little middle ground. It’ll either be the world’s worst production of a script about the world’s worst play — as my guest noted had been her past viewing experience of it — or it’ll keep you in stitches the whole time.
Olympia-based Harlequin’s charming production falls in the latter camp. This one’s a laugh riot, through and through.
The success of the comedy in Harlequin’s take comes down to the actors, who are gems, and Corey McDaniel’s deft direction, which keeps things reined in. It’s a delicate balance: not trying too hard to be funny, while playing characters who are funny largely because they are trying so hard (and failing miserably).
While the subject play Nothing On has a lead — or at least a strong personality in Viertel’s character, who fusses around about sardines (which are ultimately weaponized) — Noises Off is largely an ensemble show. All of the actor-characters are prominent, and all of them are perfectly frazzled messes. It’s a cast where everyone shines.
But the unexpected star of this one might be Cort, whose role is, essentially, to parade around in something skimpy and be completely daft. Her focused ignorance is exactly the right contrast. As everyone’s falling apart, her character is robotic: sticking to lines that make no sense, given the chaos around her, while others try heroically (and without success) to adapt to the disarray — too many props, or too few; too many actors, or too few; too few working doors; too many conflicting preshow announcements. In a play that’s a mess by design, it takes a smart actor to take a one-trick character role and turn it into comedy genius.
It’s all aided by stand-out design work, particularly the two-sided set (scenic design by Jeannie Beirne), which has become something of a Harlequin trademark. Other touches — costumes (Darren Mills), sound (Gina Salerno), lighting (Mark Thomason), and so many props (Gerald B. Browning) — also shine.
In the real world, there’s a lot of serious, awful stuff going on. And while it’s important to pay attention, sometimes a break to refresh is just as key. Watching everything fall apart on stage, with laughs big enough to double over, makes Noises Off the best humor break you could ask for.
Noises Off runs through 2/8 at the State Theater in downtown Olympia. Tickets $36, available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; there is one single-stall, gender-neutral restroom near the entrance to house left. Theatre and some common areas are wheelchair accessible. Financial accessibility: $18 rush tickets available to all, 30 minutes before showtime, if any unsold seats remain (info here).
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.