Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
It's the eve before the opening of a new farce called Nothing On, and the cast is rehearsing diligently, trying to remember their lines and the intricacies of the action, and get through it at least once. Is it tech? Is it the dress? No one seems to know, not even the director, Lloyd (Devin McConnell), who seems to have the patience of a saint as he coaches Dottie (Ginger Beavers) on her actions as the housekeeper character, Mrs. Clackett. "I take the sardines." "No, you leave the sardines." "I leave the sardines?" "And you take the newspaper." "Have we changed that? Is that what I've been doing?" "I wouldn't say that, Dottie m'love, but it is what needs to happen."
Dottie can't keep track of the sardines, while her character Mrs. Clackett is hoping to put her feet up and catch a bit of the royal whats-it on the telly. Garry (Erik Weiss) and Brooke (Brooke McLaughlin) have to deal with flight bags and boxes of files, while their characters Roger and Vickie are hoping for a bit of afternoon nookie in the house that Garry manages for his agency. Freddie (John C. Browning) and Belinda (Cecilia Senocak) arrive, and, though their characters Philip and Flavia are supposedly in Spain, they're sneaking back into their own home while hoping to avoid Inland Revenue and tax debtsand they have props to manage as well. Throw in a daytime burglar, Selsdon (Tim Hayes), whose love of the bottle puts the whole show at risk; a dimly competent stage manager, Poppy (Lillian Myers); an overworked techie/understudy, Tim (Conor Woods); and a few show-mances and you have multiple opportunities for disaster.
This isn't going to be one of those shows where the magic happens and everything suddenly comes together and somehow the cast miraculously delivers a flawless performance. Quite the oppositeand the audience gets to witness the deterioration over three riotous acts. First, the failed rehearsal, which at least gives us an idea of how the show should be done, then the entire set rotates and we get a backstage perspective of how, after several jarring weeks of performing, the show has been brought to its knees; and then one last gasp of farce turned fiasco. It's a brilliant script, full of surprise and merry mayhem, and more sight gags and pratfalls than one would have thought humanly possible.
The entire ensemble has to work well together in order to manage the physical demands of the play, and this cast rises to the fray. McConnell is excellent as suave knave director Lloyd, making the breakdown of his cool facade even funnier. Senocak does a great job as "cast mom" Belinda, and McLaughlin is a stellar dim-witted Brooke. Weiss has in spades the inarticulate Garry, but does too much shouting in act three. It's hard to discern any chemistry between him and Dottie in act one, or any between Lloyd and his various lovers. But these are minor quibblesthe action is swift and accurate, and the gags keep coming.
Director Craig Miller keeps the staging moving at a fast clip, and manages the extreme blocking choreography with aplomb, especially in act two. Sometimes the action feels too exaggerated, even for this farce, but it's a stylistic choice. Scenic design by Gary Gonser and Conor Woods gives us the requisite doors and a satisfying set rotation to reveal our new perspective for act two. April George's lighting design nicely distinguishes onstage from backstage, and Miller's sound design is perfect cheese.
Overall, the durable script by Frayn is hard to hurt, but it's challenging to stage, requiring a lot of precision and dexterity in delivering the comedy. The production at 6th Street Playhouse creates enough laugh-out-loud moments to make it a wonderfully silly, enjoyable evening.
Noises Off, through March 31, 2018, at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA. Tickets $22.00-$35.00 can be purchased online at www.6thstreetplayhouse.com or by phone at 707-523-4185 ext. 1.