Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint what it is that makes something great. One spice or flavor in a recipe, one color in a painting or one drop of liquor can elevate a cocktail from good to great. It’s the combination and mixture of all of the elements that result in the seamless and smooth product.
The same could be said of Noises Off, the revival of Michael Frayn’s 1982 comedy that depicts the adventures and escapades of a theatre troupe rehearsing the British sex farce Nothing On, filled with doors slamming and clothes disappearing. Currently in performances at the American Airlines Theater, Jeremy Herrin’s production features an ensemble of top-notch comedic actors, each bringing a special something that results in 2 ½ hours of non-stop laughter.
We first meet the cast during a disastrous late-night dress rehearsal, in which their director, played by Campbell Scott, is despairing of any chance of a functional opening night. The cast includes Dotty, played by the wonderful Andrea Martin, who makes the word “sardines” more entertaining than ever thought possible; Brooke Ashton, who is brought to vivid, sensual life by Megan Hilty, introducing theatregoers to her fantastic comedy skills that remind one of Marilyn Monroe at her best (“Smash” fans, forgive me); Frederick Fellowes (Jeremy Shamos), an over-earnest actor who really does want to understand his character’s motivation; Garry Lejeune (David Furr) who cannot finish a sentence to save his life; Belinda Blair, the unflappable gossip of the cast (Kate Jennings Grant); and Selsdon Mowbray, the ensemble’s alcoholic, wonderfully played by Daniel Davis. Offstage is Poppy, the timid stage manager, brought to life by the wonderful Tracee Chimo, and the stage hand Tim, played by the superb physical comedian Rob McLure.
The second act of Noises Off revisits the cast one month into performances, a time during which alliances, romances and rivalries have formed, and the goings-on backstage might be more interesting than those onstage. The romance between Dotty and Garry has hit a snag and one misunderstanding escalates rapidly into life-threatening scenarios that include a fire alarm ax and a frequently misplaced bottle of liquor. Derek McLane’s set has reversed so the audience sees what is happening backstage. Much of the act is performed in silence, and the ensemble’s physical comedy is nothing short of hilarious to witness, with sexual innuendos flying left and right.
Third act is end of the tour, which has disintegrated into shambles, and the cast barely understands what is happening onstage, let alone the audience. The ego of the actor, a never-ending source of humor and drama, is on full display in Noises Off, and many directors or producers may find the story hitting a bit too close to home. Watching this show provides the second-best cardio in the city, topped only by the ceaseless energy of the actors onstage.