"Noises Off” is the quintessential farce. With slamming doors, numerous pratfalls, and folks running around in their underwear, it can be classically funny or classically corny.
I have seen it twice before, but never appreciated the importance of the perfect comic timing and hilarious facial expressions and body language that it requires. Some of PCPA’s top-tier actors, directed by Paul Barnes, add that dimension to the chaos.
The show is a comedy within a comedy. A second-rate theater company is performing a bedroom farce called “Nothing On.” As they rehearse and perform the silly play, real life imitates art as the actors become involved in their own multiple affairs and zany problems. In the first act they are in technical rehearsal before opening night. The play they are rehearsing is a silly farce. The set is the interior of a house that has six doors and a staircase, and everyone goes up and down and in and out, slamming and shouting. The plot involves repeated jokes about plates of sardines, the entrance of a burglar, and two interrupted trysts.
The first act is comical as the characters are introduced, but the comic talents come to the fore in the second act, when the revolving set is turned around and we see the backstage antics of the actors a month later. Everyone seems to be having affairs with one or two members of the cast, and emotions run high, but the play is in progress on the other side of the set, so silence is demanded backstage, and most of the hilarity is in mime and physical antics.
Andrew Philpot plays the frustrated director who is the straight man in the first act as he tries to rein in his errant cast, but comical in the second as he is having multiple affairs. Kitty Balay is cute as the vague Dotty, who struggles with her part as the maid in the rehearsal, and she’s a kick in the second act as she becomes unraveled.
Michael Jenkinson is the funniest member of the cast as Freddy, the actor who always wants to know the motivation for his character. He’s oversensitive, suffers nosebleeds when stressed, and faints at the thought (not the sight) of blood.
The audience applauded when he hopped up a staircase with his trousers around his legs, but it was probably pretty easy for him, as Jenkinson is a dancer and choreographer. He got the most laughs for his hilarious facial expressions, relaying his emotions without saying a word.
George Walker is a master of physical comedy, I think. The audience gasped as he fell down the stairs headfirst, and I hope he did it on purpose. If not, he made a quick recovery. He has the flexibility of a gymnast, and perfect comic timing.
Peter S. Hadres is amusing as Selsdon, an aging actor with a drinking problem and sometimes a hearing problem. Selsdon is more clever than he seems, and we wonder if he’s putting everyone on with his assumed persona.
Karin Hendriks gets plenty of laughs as Brooke, the airheaded ingénue who keeps losing her contact lenses and spends much of the time in her underwear.
Elizabeth Stuart is good as Belinda, another actor who starts out straight and gets caught up in the frantic emotions of the second act. Andrea Hilbrant as the stage manager and Paul Henry as tech for the theater group contribute to the fray with their own unique personalities.
Mark Booher is “Noises Off!” fight choreographer, not for fights as such, but for some amazing moments that require coordination and timing, such as when to duck when an ax is coming toward your head, how to react when someone is stomping on your foot, and how to fall — there’s a lot of falling. Quinn Mattfeld is dialect coach, and the actors all maintain British accents throughout.
This play is all slapstick, with Vaudevillian body language, and while it’s silly, the acting is so good that it’s truly funny.
IF YOU GO
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. Wednesday, Saturdays and Sundays through May 11
Marian Theatre, Allan Hancock College, Santa Maria
$29.50 to $37.50
922-8313 or www.pcpa.org