“Noises Off”, Nashville Repertory Theatre‘s current offering, onstage at TPAC’s Johnson Theatre through Saturday, November 5, gets its title from the backstage theatre direction equivalent to a movie soundstage’s “quiet on the set”. “Noises Off” employs the clever twist of going behind the scenes of a theatrical production to reveal the interpersonal relationships of the actors of a fictional play called “Nothing On”.
Presented in three acts, which the playbill indicates are all Act One, the audience is first invited to spy on a late-night final-dress rehearsal of “Nothing On”, in which half a dozen characters unknowingly end up at the same supposed vacant house for what they think will be a quiet, uneventful weekend. The rest of the plot of the show-within-the-show doesn’t really matter as the audience never gets to see what happens beyond the first act.
During the first of two intermissions, the house set–beautifully designed by Gary C. Hoff with such attention to detail, you could live there–rotates to reveal the backstage illusion-busting wooden facade of the set, a visual hint of the next Act One’s behind-the-scenes action, in which the audience is privy to backstage antics as relationships between the actors begin to unravel during a matinee performance about a month into the show’s run.
Another intermission, and the set switches back to the front view of the house as we once again see the Act One action of “Nothing On”. It’s even more of a jumbled mess as the actors have had just about as much as they can stand of their fellow cast mates antics and ever-changing love-triangles and everything comes to a hilarious head during the final leg of the tour.
From British playwright Michael Frayn, the show was originally mounted in the early 80s, and was turned into a film in the early 90s with a star-studded cast featuring Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Marilu Henner and others. For Nashville Rep’s presentation of the Tony-nominated farce, they’ve gathered just as much star-power in Martha Wilkinson, Eric D. Pasto-Crosby, Brian Webb Russell, Steve Kraski, Cori Anne Laemmel, Jenny Littleton, Chase Miller, Morgan Davis and Jacob York.
Many of the cast of “Noises Off” will no doubt be familiar, not just to Nashville Rep patrons, but other theatre companies and local productions as well. “Nothing On”‘s exasperated director, Lloyd Dallas, played by Eric D. Pasto-Crosby. Pasto-Crosby was seen last year in Studio Tenn’s beautiful mounting of “The Glass Menagerie” during their 2015/2016 season. From his rigid portrayal of Tom in “Glass Menagerie” to his easily aggravated take on Lloyd for this show, Pasto-Crosby proves he’s just as adept at comedy as he is drama.
Pasto-Crosby plays Lloyd with just enough fluster and discomposure to stir memories of any audience member who’s ever dipped their toe in the acting pool. Complicating things a bit, Lloyd is currently romancing his assistant stage manager, Poppy Norton-Taylor (perfectly nervously played by Cori Anne Laemmel) as well as his ingenue, Brooke Ashton (vapidly, but vixenly personified by Morgan Davis).
From the character’s initial entrance, Lloyd offers the first broken fourth wall as he stops the action on stage when one of the actors misses a prop cue. Pasto-Crosby’s Lloyd bellows from the audience and the fun begins. The actress Pasto-Crosby’s Lloyd chastises for missing her cue is another frequent Rep presence, Martha Wilkinson as middle-aged actress Dotty Otley, who’s playing the housekeeper in the show-within-a show. Much like Lloyd, Dotty too is embroiled in a love triangle. All Dotty wants to do is put her feet up and enjoy the Royal Family on the telly. Based solely on when “Noises Off” originally premiered, one can only assume she’s referring to the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, but, perhaps to keep the show period, without completely tying it to a real-life event, she only alludes to it, but never says it outright. Oh, and did I mention she enjoys a snack of sardines? Worth noting, since a plate of the fishy snacks result in much of the show’s hilarity when left about, or taken off, cluing the other members of “Nothing On” that they’re not alone in the house.
No matter what role in which she’s cast, Wilkinson is a force with which to be reckoned. Under the precise eye of The Rep’s Artistic Director, Rene Copeland, who’s also directing this show, Wilkinson, and the rest of the cast, for that matter, whether the intended focus of a scene or not, demand the audience’s attention as they each command the stage with the tiniest of gestures, movements and knowing glances. During the segment of the play set backstage, I literally laughed out loud at Wilkinson’s Dotty doing deep knee bends and stretches in at attempt to blow off steam from the behind-the-scenes antics before making her ‘entrance’ in “Nothing On”.
Her ability to garner guttural laughter is something Wilkinson has had plenty of practice doing. Along with cast members Steve Kraski and Rep first-timer, Chase Miller, Wilkinson has stared in her share of uproarious farces at nearby Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, known for showcasing thinly-plotted, but slapstick-heavy comedies.
Kraski plays Freddy Felllows, an actor with a bit of a pious attitude who makes up the second-third of Dotty’s aforementioned love triangle. Given to nosebleeds and dropped trousers, Kraski’s Freddy provides the audience with still more laughter.
Miller, as “Nothing On”‘s overworked, frazzled Stage Manager, Tim Allgood is a sheer delight to watch. While “Noises” marks Miller’s Rep debut, he’s honed his craft over the years with appearances in shows at Chaffin’s, Gaslight Dinner Theatre in Dickson and Boiler Room, to name a few. When Miller’s Tim becomes flustered, you can almost see steam rising to the boiling point in his facial expressions, a mark of a great slapstick comedian.
Another of the actors who’s simply masterful at physical comedy is Jacob York as Garry Lejeune, the final third in Dotty’s love triangle. Last seen at The Rep in 2013’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and 2015’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, York most recently starred in the film festival favorite, “What’s The Matter With Gerald” from Nashville filmmakers Matthew Riddlehoover and Dustin Tittle.
Perhaps performing the show’s most physical role, when York’s Garry takes a tumble down the staircase, the audience can be heard gasping, then laughing hysterically when it’s evident it is all just part of the act.
Next is Jenny Littleton as Belinda Blair, an actress who’s cheery disposition serves her well, as she seems to be the company busy-body, knowing everyone’s secrets, including who’s dating whom. Secrets she reveals throughout the play. When not onstage at The Rep in shows like “Cabaret”, “The Crucible” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Littleton has carved quite the niche for herself over the last ten years playing Debbie in the hugely popular country music satire, “The Doyle and Debbie Show” at Nashville’s historic Station Inn.
Rounding out the cast is Brian Webb Russell as Selsdon Mowbray, a seasoned actor with a bit of a drinking problem whom director Lloyd has hired as a favor. With vocal delivery straight out of a William Shakespeare play, Russell’s Selsdon approaches his role with anything but enthusiasm. Much of his laughs come when he absent-mindedly misses his cue or is simply missing, leading the remainder of the cast to search for, then hide booze around the set.
“Noises Off” is basically a slightly higher-brow version of any given slapstick comedy every produced, filled with pratfalls, near-misses, misplaced sardines and enough slamming doors to keep the audience laughing for the duration. Nashville Rep‘s “Noises Off” continues its run at TPAC’s Johnson Hall with shows now through Saturday, November 5. Click Here for showtimes. Click Here to purchase tickets.
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