Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review: 'Noises Off'

Inventive fights and perfect timing transform this farce into a paragon of physical comedy.

Review: ‘Noises Off’

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Leah Walton, Jessica Bedford, Liz Filios and Lenny Haas in 'Noises Off'
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By Jim Rutter


I wish I had never seen Michael Frayn’s Noises Off. Correction: I wish I had never seen any other company’s production of his comedy, now receiving a sensationally funny staging at People’s Light and Theatre Company.

Frayn’s farce focuses on a British theatre troupe embarking on a tour of the fictional “Nothing On.” Act One shows them fumbling through the last rehearsal before their first opening night; Act Three catches up with them toward the end of the run, where the intra-cast hostilities and failed romances have all but consumed the production with mayhem and malice.

In a delightful device, Act Two turns Tony Straiges magnificent 10-door set around to reveal the back stage antics and machinations that take place during a performance. Here, Samantha Bellomo’s blisteringly funny and inventive fight choreography (actors head-butting the set!) combines with director Pete Pryor’s sharp timing to transform this farce into a paragon of physical comedy.

Much of the script’s hilarity depends on surprise, both at revelations in the plot of “Nothing On,” and in how badly the quickly irritated cast members screw up their parts and then manage to soldier on in improvisation. The talented cast, led by standout performances from Marcia Saunders and her ever-deteriorating rendering of lines and Christopher Kelly’s blend of nonsensical stammering and raucous physicality, mines their caricatured parts to find gems of humor at every opportunity.

Under Pryor’s direction, the comedy fires on all cylinders: innuendo, slapstick, insider jokes about theatre and acting (missed cues, faulty props), and the human follies of drinking, womanizing and mistaken intention.

The audience didn’t so much thunder in their laughter as treat each new revelation with a mixture of both pleasant surprise and umbrage, a kind of “I can’t believe they just did that.”

And while I rarely stopped laughing at People’s Light’s superb staging, that sense of delighted surprise was  the only thing I missed from having seen other productions elsewhere.


Noises Off. Presented through August 4 at People’s Light and Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. Tickets: $25 to $45. Information: 610-344-3500 or peopleslight.org


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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