Schoolhouse Arts Pulls Off ‘NOISES OFF!’ With Perfection

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April 2019

NOISES OFF!—that madcap farce by English playwright Michael Frayn—has long been one of my all-time favorite comedies.  When I found out Schoolhouse Arts Center at Sebago Lakes was mounting it, I couldn’t wait to review it.  Ahh….sweet creative satisfaction!

Under the capable direction of Zachariah Stearn, Schoolhouse Arts Center pulls out all the stops for an immensely entertaining production of NOISES OFF!, thanks to the sizzling hot stage skills of a laser-focused cast.

NOISES OFF! is a play about a troupe of B-grade actors, each with eccentric, quirky personalities,  and the 10-week tour of their production called “Nothing On” (the play-within-the-play).

Act One reveals a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time ensemble on the eve before Opening Night, cramming  in a last-minute tech rehearsal in hopes to get things right—their lines, cues, entrances, exits, props, etc.  As the players fumble at the end of the night, the director of the play-within-the-play, Lloyd Dallas (Sean Buchanan), reaches the end of his rope, exacting temper and sarcasm upon an a tense and confused cast.

Act Two takes place at a matinee one month later.  The set is completely turned around, giving the audience a birds-eye, fly-on-the-wall perspective of what really happens backstage.  The gloves have come off and the personality clashes are now front-and-center (but still backstage), leading up to some wild behind-the-scenes antics all whilst “the show must go on.”

By now it’s been established that Lloyd is involved in a love triangle with Brooke Ashton (Sophie Kaplan), the young ditsy ingenue and Poppy Norton-Taylor (Tapley Trudel), the emotional Assistant Stage Manager and understudy for the female roles.

Gary Lejeune (Chris Roberts), the leading man who can’t complete a sentence, is dating Dotty Otley (Francesca Jellison), an older television star with top billing and money invested in the play.  Needing constant motivation is Frederick Fellowes (Randy Hunt) who is prone to nosebleeds, while the sensible Belinda Blair (Carmela Castro) is a reliable scene-saver.

Then there’s Selsdon Mowbray (Jeff Christo), an elderly man with a theft record and a drinking problem and Tim Allgood (Ryan Eling), the exhausted, over-worked Stage Manager who must fix the set, run Lloyd’s errands and understudy for the male roles.

Act Three:  The final show of the run. The set is back to normal.  Not so the cast.  By now, this troupe is defeated by personal, professional, relationship and romantic failures and it’s an all-out battle to survive the bedlam of clashes, sabotage of props, and ad-libbing in order to get to the final curtain.

It takes actors with strong stage skills to be able to master the mayhem and effectively delineate the characters they are playing from the characters their characters are playing.   This ensemble is to be credited for delivering transparent performances and critical split-second thinking at a ferocious pace, with no margin for errors (and if there are any, even the errors are executed with rigor).

Intermissions are like a scene-within-the-play-within-the-play.  Director Stearns made an interesting choice to make the task of turning around the entire massive set in full view of the audience.  Similarly, the warm-up to the show, with actors randomly on stage, checking their props, costumes, running through lines, etc., is a nice touch.

The show is rated PG-13 for mild adult situations and language.  When I played the role of Tim in a Clearwater, Florida, production of Noises Off, I don’t recall the script including any f-bombs.  The use of the f-bomb more than three times in any PG-13 show deems an R-rating.  Unfortunately, the creative license to add the word liberally in this production is unnecessary and may be detrimental for family-friendly patrons.

But make no mistake—this production of NOISES OFF! is a riotous, door-slamming, high-energy, side-splitting comedy not to be missed.  And remember…it’s all about the sardines!

NOISES OFF! is running now through April 14, Fridays at 7 PM, Saturdays at 2 PM and 7 PM, Sundays at 2 PM.  Schoolhouse Arts Center is located at 16 Richville Road in Standish.  FMI: (207) 642-3743 or www.schoolhousearts.org.

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–Louis Philippe

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