Theatre review: Long Beach Playhouse’s Noises Off

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Photo by Michael Hardy

Jensen Higley (Belinda) and John Vann (Garry) in Long Beach Playhouse’s Noises Off

All the world’s a stage, as Shakespeare wrote, but what if the backstage antics of a play are just as farcical– if not more so– than what’s happening onstage? Long Beach Playhouse’s Noises Off gives us that hilarious topsy-turvy view, a glimpse of theatre life gone hysterically wrong.

As Director Gregory Cohen notes, “It takes a great deal of effort for a group of talented actors to create chaos and blunder their way to perfection.”

All nine players in Noises Off give their physical all to deliver that barely-controlled chaos, portraying actors in a play within this play called Nothing On.

Lloyd (Eric Schiffer), the director of Nothing On, contends with a crew who don’t even realize it’s the final rehearsal before opening night of a play that depends heavily on manipulating various doors, a telephone and plates of sardines. Nothing On also requires perfectly timed entrances and exits with characters carrying the correct props, though they stop and question Lloyd about their motivations to do so.

We soon see the actors get it together to perform Nothing On as a farce set in an English country house in which the owners are supposed to be in Spain evading taxes but return on the same day as–– unbeknownst to them–– realtor Garry (John Vann) and his girlfriend Brooke (Amara Phelps) are using the house for a fling. Housekeeper Dotty (Andrea Stradling) is told by both couples not to tell anyone they are there. An elaborate hide-and-seek charade ensues, with a burglar and Arab sheikh soon added to the mix for even more mayhem.

In Act II, however– through the artistry of Noises Off set-designer Larry Mura– we get a backstage view of Nothing On after it has been on the road for some time, doubling our fun. The cast and crew’s relationships and foibles (including a drinking problem) have come to a head and we see them grappling with each other in over-the-top ways between their onstage appearances. We then see their final performance go excruciatingly yet laughably wrong in so, so many ways.

To carry off such a complex structure requires complete investment by the cast, and we definitely get that, with more full-steam running across and around the stage than you’ve probably ever seen in a theatre (unless you happened to see The Play That Goes Wrong last year in LA). The result is remarkably coherent craziness–– a credit to each and every cast member and director Cohen. But the comedy could be enhanced by more razor-sharp deliveries and timing, which the cast will probably hone as the production continues.

Vann as the young Garry was perhaps the closest to that ideal on opening night, moving and speaking crisply, notably keeping his American accent rather than forcing an English one. Jensen Higley as Belinda, an actress who knows everything going on among the Nothing On crew, is also especially bright and agile in her delivery and mad-dash sprints to save the production from a rogue bottle of alcohol.

But Noises Off is truly a talented ensemble effort that creates and sustains–– like a bubble inflated until it is about to pop–– an energetic theatrical experience. Run, don’t walk, to catch it!

Noises Off continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through March 21, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit lbplayhouse.org.