Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD
In Patrick Cannon‘s debut season as new artistic director at Little Lake Theatre Company, he brings the farce Noises Off to Little Lake for its venue premiere.
Editors note: The part of Freddie was scheduled to be played John Herrman in Little Lake Theatre’s production of Noises Off However Freddie was played by Elias Diamond for the run of the show when Mr. Herrman contracted COVID. Unfortunately, our reviewer missed the pre-show announcement of the cast change. Our sincere apologies for missing the change of actors. This post has been updated to reflect the change.
Playwright Michael Frayn‘s 1982 play within a play has not aged well in the era of TikTok attention spans.
Act One’s dress rehearsal is then heard from backstage in Act Two and is again seen from the front of house in Act Three. If Frayn’s writing was more relevant, it would help. Endless lines around a plate of sardines that shuttles (or fails to shuttle) on and off set wears as thin as a toddler looping on “Baby Shark” long before act one is done, given the dress rehearsal’s many stops, starts, and rewinds.
The play finds a lively stride in act two with the backstage view. Going backstage lets us see what is typically unseen when attending a play. As backstage must remain quiet during the play, it becomes a histrionic setting for Buster Keaton-inspired pratfalls and exaggerated movements in the absence of being able to communicate verbally.
The ad nauseam repetition across three long acts feels dated and tedious. Between the acts, complex set changes slow the play even more, an optimization note for set designer Jared Pfennigwerth.
Despite this, Director Ponny Conomos Jahn keeps the pace swirling and frenetic. It’s visually exciting and challenging to absorb all of the action as the actors move on stage and back off again, doors open and close rapid-fire to delay the discovery of multiple people in the same space when each group thinks of themselves alone. Brooke’s (Erika Krenn) sexy quip onstage turns nauseated eye roll as soon as she’s backstage. Props are misplaced (and misused), and onstage cues have to be repeated as the maelstrom devolves backstage.
There’s supposed to be an offstage romance between Dotty (Mary Randolph) and Garry (Ross Kobelak), but the May/December nature of Jahn’s casting robs that romance of any sizzle as it instead feels barely plausible. The director of the play within the play, Lloyd (Greg Caridi), is a gem. A long career of coaxing subpar talent has left him with a certain perennial low-grade exhaustion. He’s delightfully self-effacing with a keen resignation when he notes he’ll handle a diva starlet with “a certain faded charm.” His pleather blazer and white turtleneck give him the air of an aging Paul McCartney. Jahn cultivates an easy and authentic banter between the play’s husband and wife, Belinda (Kauleen Cloutier) and Freddie (Elias Diamond), which is suggestive of a long-time, enduring couple.
What Noises Off does reaffirm is the absolute uniqueness of live theatre. When watching (or rewatching) a film, you may observe new details, but the final cut is the same. In theatre, despite working from the same script for each production, differences in physical theatrical spaces, the turning of phrases, and the shifting interpersonal dynamics of humans create rich variability and unpredictability. The theatre is relatable; it awakens the reminder that we are all fallible, vulnerable humans, not perfect silver-screen forms. There is joy in that realization, particularly in a world where it’s easy to get caught up in an illusion of perfection often staged via social media. Noises Off reminds us to honor, embrace and find humor in the grand messiness of being human.
‘Noises Off’ plays at Little Lake Theatre Company through June 19th. To learn more and purchase tickets for the show, please visit https://www.littlelake.org