‘Noises Off,’ Michael Frayn’s farce-within-a-farce, is a love letter to the theater. If you’ve spent any time on the boards or backstage, you’ll delight in his affectionate sendup of, among others, self-absorbed and dimwitted actors, frustrated directors, and romantic triangles involving just about everybody.
WHERE: C-R Productions, Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes
WHEN: through Sept. 21
HOW MUCH: $40-$23
MORE INFO: 237-5858
C-R Productions is offering a delightful treatment of this 1982 play. With the exception of some sputtering in Act II, director Jim Charles and his crack cast of nine keep the well-oiled machine humming.
Act I opens on the last-minute rehearsal of a traveling production of “Nothing On,” a farce replete with seven doors and props (like plates of sardines) that are bound to add to the mayhem. The cast, unfortunately, is nowhere near an opening night, much to the dismay of director Lloyd Dallas (Brian Massman), whose heart is in a production of “Richard III” he’s about to direct.
Leading lady Dotty Otley (Kristen van Ginhoven) can’t remember her lines or movements; Garry Lejeune (Tim Dugan) might better be named “jejune”; old pro Seldson Mowbray (John Noble), is hard of hearing and dipsomaniacal; and Frederick Fellowes (Brad Heikes) exasperates Dallas with his need to know motivation for every movement, which Dallas provides with increasing sarcasm. Laura Valpey, Kaitlin Wilcox, Kate Reynolds, and James Dutton expertly round out the C-R cast as recognizable theater types, each with a tic that makes Acts II and III very funny.
When you return from the first intermission, you’ll find that the set from Act I has been turned inside out, so we’re watching “Nothing On,” a month later into its run in another out-of-the-way playhouse in England, from behind the scenes. What has happened, of course, is that the problems with the cast that emerged in Act I have now become full-blown crises. Frayn cleverly calls for us to see “Nothing On” being done while the actors engage in personal battles backstage. Of course, this kind of acting requires split-second timing from the C-R cast, and they nearly pull it off.
The pantomimed action, however, is not always cleanly designed or performed. Oh, it’s amusing, all right, and the conceit reminds theatergoers that what we see in front of the curtain is only half the story, but the playing sometimes seems self-conscious.
The evening’s triumph, however, is Act III. The company of “Nothing On” is finishing its run in yet one more obscure theater in the English countryside. Nerves are frayed. Actors don’t care. All of the bits with which we’ve become familiar in the first two acts come completely undone, leaving desperate actors to improvise, unsuccessfully. Here’s where Jim Charles & company shine. Hysterical!
John Hofland’s set, by the way, is the 10th character in this play. You’ll admire his handiwork.
The preshow music is Ethel Merman’s stentorian treatment of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” And however you choose to interpret that remark, she’s right.