‘Noises Off’ at 1st Stage by Amanda Gunther

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Words. Doors. Bags. Boxes. Sardines. That’s theatre. That’s life. But don’t panic! Let the actors at 1st Stage do all the panicking for you so that you can laugh along to the uproarious farce Noises Off as they bring this comic gem to the stage just in time for the holidays. If holiday shopping has got you down, or you’ve seen too many productions of A Christmas Carol, this hilarious farce is just what the doctor ordered to keep your sanity straight through the New Year. Directed by Doug Wilder, this comic romp of sexual innuendo, straight-up slapstick, and all-around shenanigans will have you rolling in the aisles by the time you reach the third act.

(from left to right) Zachary Fernbok, Melissa Graves, Kate Karczewski, Matthew Pauli, Mario Baldessari, Kathleen Akerly, Jason Glass, Blair Bowers, and Dylan Myers. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
(from left to right) Zachary Fernbok, Melissa Graves, Kate Karczewski, Matthew Pauli, Mario Baldessari, Kathleen Akerly, Jason Glass, Blair Bowers, and Dylan Myers. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Set Designer Steven Royal deserves high praise for his beautifully crafted and fully functional set. With doors that slam (and occasionally some that stick) and just enough play space for things to get ridiculous in a hurry, the two-story set becomes even more impressive when it spins around to reveal the shoddy woodworking of an actual set built for a stage. This side of Royal’s work is impressive as not only does it look exactly like the cramped and heavily-supported-by-any-beams-necessary space of a backstage area, but it serves a hilarious function once the cast breaks down into silent slapstick in the middle of Act II. Royal’s work almost becomes an extra character, the actors so familiar with their setting that it’s like an old friend that unwinds maniacally with them as the farce breaks down into further comic shenanigans.

When it comes to humor – let’s face it – the British just do it better, especially when they do farce. Dialect Consultant Jane Margulies Kalbfeld ensures that the performers in this production articulate varying British dialects with ease. Kalbfeld works carefully to distinguish the accents that the characters put on in the play Nothing On and how they sound as actors backstage; a triumph of epic proportions in making these differences.

Director Doug Wilder, who at this performance (as is the nature of live theatre) performed as the Belinda Blair character, has an exceptional vision for this farce and goes about executing his vision in a fashion that achieves maximum laughs from the audience. Wilder’s keen understanding of comic timing and his thorough knowledge of nuance when it comes to performing slapstick augments the already farcical elements this play has to offer. Act II is hysterical, barely a moment to breathe between laughing, and a good deal of this comedy comes from over-the-top silent slapstick performed with physical flare. Heavy doses of slapstick and physical humor runs the risk of being campy and trite but Wilder balances the scenes with truth and sincerity creating precise moment of physical hilarity that leaves the audience roaring.

Wilder, doubling at this performance as the inside gossip girl, gives a rousing performance that only serves to add hilarity to the show. There’s nothing quite like a full-bearded man prancing up the steps as a woman trying to flirt and be saucy with her character’s husband. Adapting to the last minute emergency (Actress Melissa Graves came down with a bad case of laryngitis) with ease, Wilder gives a brilliant performance in the role of Belinda; a comic gift to the audience.

Belinda’s on-stage husband, Frederick (Zachary Fernebok) is a zany man with his own personal box of quirks. Each of the characters is unusual, but Fernebok breaks the mold with his eccentricities. Between his ripe facial responses and his cataclysmic reaction to blood and violence, Fernebok nails the essence of physical humor into his character.

Poppy (Kate Karczewski) and Tim (Jason Glass) add their own layers of peculiar to the pot as the stage manager and all around handyman on the set. Karczewski takes to being liberally abused by the grousing director quite well, making the audience almost sympathize with her, if they weren’t so busy laughing at her comic plight. Glass, as he enters frenetic production mode, becomes a solid source of laughter as he tries to be the understudy, the page boy, and all around do-it-all man, resulting in some moments of true side-splitting comedy.

Orchestrating the comic disasters is the ‘in-play’ is Director Lloyd Dallas (Matthew Pauli). Playing the typically arrogant and rather haughty directing type, Pauli’s ability to become highly agitated and flabbergasted are an honest hoot. Relying more on wordplays and the vocal nature with which he addresses members of his cast, Pauli takes everything extremely serious which makes for an even funnier scene to behold, especially when he first descends onto the stage from somewhere in the real house audience. His spastic interruptions during Act II only adds to the calamity and keeps the audience in stitches every time he erupts.

It wouldn’t be a struggling troupe of actors without the company drunk – Selsdon (Mario Baldessari) and the company ditz – Brooke (Blair Bowers). Baldessari is the hackneyed old sot whose career left him long ago but the taste for the drink did not; and his melodramatic rendition of every line he delivers is comical to the utmost. Bowers, as the mood-swinging she-demon, also plays the bad ‘rote’ actor in scene who cannot break line, character, or moment to save her life. It takes a certain level of true acting skill to be able to convincingly play a bad actor and Bowers does so with zest; the pair – though never properly interacting – making for brilliant bursts of comic genius throughout the production.

But the pair that steal it all are Dotty (Kathleen Akerley) and Garry (Dylan Myers). Both performers have an exceptional approach to their comic roles, Akerley using the scene around her to inspire moments of sheer comedy and Myers dipping into his physical twitches and ticks to draw forth the laughs. Their romantic relationship- turned-sour is a keypoint to all of the comedy that unfolds rapidly in Act II. Akerley, especially when soused in Act III, commands every eye in the audience to her drunken shenanigans and makes you feel as if you’re watching an actor trying desperately to recover a scene that’s gone horrendously wrong.

(from left to right) Mario Baldesarri, Dylan Myers, Matthew Pauli, and Kathleen Akerly. Photo by Teresa Castracane.
(from left to right) Mario Baldesarri, Dylan Myers, Matthew Pauli, and Kathleen Akerly. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Myers is the king of comedy in this production; his spastic moments of panic are so thoroughly expressed and articulated that you’ll laugh until your sides hurt when he starts to tweak out. Watching Myers fall apart on the stage in Act III creates moments that will tickle your funny bone until it falls out. He has a comprehensive understanding of how to acknowledge all the things that go wrong and tie them all together until he just can’t take it anymore and unravels completely; an uproarious meltdown of epic proportions.

You might need a map, or a diagram at the very least, to keep track of who’s sleeping with who, who’s supposed to get the flowers – and for goodness sakes – who’s taking the sardines on and off the stage; but it’s well worth the confusion and calamity for all of the comedy that awaits you at 1st Stage!

Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

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Noises Off plays through December 29, 2013 at 1st Stage in Tysons Corner— 1524 Spring Hill Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 854-1856, or purchase them online.

LINKS

Interviews with the director and cast of Noises Off by Joel Markowitz.
–Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’:Part 1: Director Doug Wilder.

–Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’: Part 2: Mario Baldessari (Selsdon). 

–Making Some Noise: Behind the Scenes of 1st Stage’s ‘Noises Off’: Part 3: Matthew Pauli (Lloyd).