The cheeriest place to be these days as light fades from the October sky is Cleveland Play House, where Noises Off, Michael Frayn's comic classic, has just begun a laugh-filled run.
You probably know the story. A touring company of middling, muddling British actors is rehearsing a bedroom farce called Nothing On. It's midnight, they can't remember their lines and, like all farce, the play is full of complicated physical set-ups - plates of sardines, newspapers carried on and off, telephone calls, plenty of things to get wrong, particularly when fatigue and temperament enter the picture.
There's Dotty Ottley, playing the housekeeper and a bit past it - especially in the early hours of the morning. Director Lloyd Dallas is somewhere out in the house giving directions on an amplified sound system that makes him sound like the voice of God. Enter Garry Lejeune - even the names are funny - as the estate agent who takes advantage of the owners' absence to entertain a sweet young thing from the office. But, of course, the owners aren't really living in Spain. That was just a ruse to avoid paying back taxes.Ê Here they come now, sneaking back in for a little matinee sex on what they think is the housekeeper's day off. Meanwhile the real farce is developing backstage, as jealousies erupt and the actors begin sabotaging each other's performances.
Artistic director Michael Bloom calls Noises Off a "veritable comic machine," and he's right. You can't stop laughing. You laugh until you cry, until your stomach hurts. Just when you stop to catch your breath, the person sitting next to you or in the row behind starts up, and off you go again.
Noises Off runs on physical comedy fueled by split-second timing. The characters are stock theatrical types, but the play gains depth and humor when the actors add a touch of humanity. Donald Carrier as the bumbling Frederick Fowles and Isabel Liss as the mother "hen" who tends to his emotional wounds seem made for their parts. Frank Kopyc has fun with Shelsdon Mowbray, the Shakespearean actor turned alcoholic. Reduced to playing walk-ons, he has trouble staying awake for his brief but pivotal scenes.
Linda Kimbrough seems a little fragile for the role of Dotty. This part calls for a Carol Burnett type who can stand up to the physical abuse and is too thick-skinned to care about her mistakes. Kimbrough is delicately built, and she approaches Dottie as lacking in confidence. It makes us concerned, when we should be laughing. As the director, Timothy Gregory has a beautiful resonant voice but never quite gets over those early "voice of God" moments. He appears to be bullying rather than directing the actors.
Energetic, acrobatic Christopher Kelly does a star turn as Garry, an actor who is virtually inarticulate without a script in his hands. Bob Turton shines as Tim Allgood, the technical director whose startled sleepwalker's face says all there is to say about late night/early morning rehearsals. Like Kelly, Turton has perfect timing and a spontaneous "oh no" quality that guarantees laughter amid all the pounces and pratfalls.
Noises Off is produced in association with the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. The company and the set will head to South Florida when the run ends late this month. Ê
Noises OffÊ Through October 26 Cleveland Play House 8500 Euclid Ave. 216.795.7000Ê