The show is a send-up of the traditional farce and is all about a company of second-tier actors rehearsing and performing a play called “Nothing On,” your typical door-slamming farce about illicit sexual escapades in an empty country house. The cast of the farce within a farce includes several faded TV stars, according to the hilarious mock program that comes tucked inside your Playbill. Don’t miss the faux-academic production notes that equate the dropping of trousers to the fall of man. I was laughing out loud before the houselights went down.
The first act shows us the cast stumbling through technical rehearsal a few hours before opening, as everything goes wrong. The second takes us backstage as the company, now on the road for a month, tries to get through a performance while all sorts of personal drama — and intrigue — unfold, threatening to derail the performance. The final act takes us back out front as we watch the performance at the end of the tour, as the cast is disintegrating in front of our eyes.
No written description can capture the hilarity of this revival of “Noises Off.” This is one you really have to see. Andrea Martin is magnificent as Dotty Otley, the cockney maid, whose accent become quite plummy when she’s offstage. Her timing is sheer perfection as she does battle with plates of sardines, phone cords, and the omnipresent doors. David Furr is a riot as Garry Lejeune, and he makes one of the most famous comic bits in the piece (in Act Three) his own. You simply won’t believe it. Megan Hilty, as the dim bombshell Brooke Ashton, is inspired. You can hardly take your eyes off her because every moment of her performance is full-on funny.
The splendid revival of “Noises Off” is a non-stop riot
Jeremy Shamos is fantastic as Frederick Fellowes, the kind of actor who needs motivation for something even as mechanical as getting a box out of the way. He is so earnest, he fails to realize that farce is about getting the sardines off and on the stage and slamming the doors. Shamos reveals a superb talent for physical comedy we haven’t seen from him in other shows. Rob McClure, as the nervous stage manager Tim Allgood, is priceless.
The rest of the company — Campbell Scott as the dejected director, Tracee Chimo as the star-struck stage manager, Kate Jennings Grand as the gossipy leading lady, and Daniel Davis as the old, alcoholic actor — are all wonderful playing identifiable types.
Director Jeremy Herrin has a terrific sense of how to make several layers of farce work. Special note should be made of the contributions of Lorenzo Pisoni, who is billed as comedy stunt coordinator. Pisoni is a genius at physical comedy, and while one can’t always tell where his work ends and Herrin’s begins, fans of his will recognize some of the seemingly impossible physicality that the entire cast tackles with gusto.
With a perfect period set from Derek McLane and costumes from Michael Krass, the production is a finely oiled machine that looks like it could go off the rails at any moment. And that’s precisely the point.
When “Noises Off” first showed up in 1983, it followed a period when British farces were particularly popular on Broadway and it came as quite a surprise. More than 30 years later, the play works as well as ever. After all, this is classic comedy that reaches back to the earliest days of the theater. No matter how sophisticated we become, the combination of slapstick and schadenfreude always works. And never more so than when it’s done as wonderfully as this production of “Noises Off.”
NOISES OFF | Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St. | Tue.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m. | $67-$137 at roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300 | Two hrs., 30 mins., with intermission