Wine Country Theatre’s Paso Robles production of “Noises Off” showcases the comedic side of theater life, both onstage and off.
The play, written by English playwright Michael Frayn, debuted in London in 1982. It’s since been adapted into a 1992 movie starring Michael Caine, Carol Burnett and Christopher Reeve and has been revived many times, most recently on Broadway in 2016.
“Noises Off,” directed by Robin Kirk Wolf, can be confusing for those who’ve never seen it before, as there are two shows taking place on stage. The play-within-a-play is the sex farce “Nothing On,” which is being performed by a subpar theater troupe.
“Noises Off” opens on the final rehearsal for “Nothing On,” with constant interruptions by frustrated director Lloyd Dallas (a delightfully snobbish Matthew Hanson). Garry Lejeune (a very funny Cory Schonauer) plays a real estate agent attempting to use the English country house he’s trying to rent out as a rendezvous spot for him and tax agency employee Vicky, played by new actress Brooke Ashton (Brianna Birks).
Dotty Otley (Zandi Jones Peters), a well-known performer who’s invested money in the production, plays a flustered housekeeper whose job gets even more confusing when the tax-evading couple who owns the house, played by Belinda Blair (Katie Winslow) and Frederick Fellowes (Bo Wolf), come home unexpectedly. To add to the complications, a burglar, played by alcoholic veteran actor Sheldon Mowbray (Bob Knowles), breaks in and begins stealing valuables.
“Noises Off” is filled with slapstick humor and wit — both from the very funny play-within-a-play, “Nothing On,” and from the spectacle of a theater company trying to perform a complicated play while dealing with their own backstage dramas.
In the background, stage managers Poppy Norton-Taylor (Katherine Perello) and Tim Allgood (Sean McCallon) try to manage the chaos as actors and actresses forget props and bungle lines. They must occasionally hunt down Sheldon, who everyone worries may begin drinking again.
As “Noises Off” continues, we see how the cast members’ highly unprofessional relationships with one another impact “Nothing On.” Lloyd, Poppy and Brooke are involved in a love triangle, and Frederick unknowingly gets in the middle of Dotty and Garry’s relationship.
The final act shows the onstage fallout from the cast’s troubles, with missing props, broken set pieces and stand-ins coming on stage at the same time as performers.
“Noises Off” is filled with slapstick humor and wit — both from the very funny “Nothing On” and from the spectacle of a theater company trying to perform a complicated play while dealing with their own backstage dramas.
Schonauer’s Garry is particularly funny, both in the first act — when he repeatedly yells “Vickayy” and says the phrase “sex maniac” in a faux British accent — and in the second, when he takes out his rage on Dotty and Frederick, who he thinks are having a fling behind his back.
Birks and Wolf are also entertaining as the play’s ditziest characters, Brooke and Frederick. Brooke, who spends most of the play in lingerie, constantly loses her contact lenses and spaces out during rehearsals. Frederick, who gets nosebleeds as a reaction to violence, is in the midst of a divorce and constantly apologizes for himself.
A scene that got some of the most laughs on opening night occurs toward the end of the play. In the midst of a disastrous production, Lloyd and Tim both go onstage as the burglar, both thinking Sheldon has missed his cue and is off drinking. Together with Sheldon, they emerge in black stocking caps, saying their lines in unison to uproarious laughter.
The innovative sets, designed by Robin Kirk Wolf and Geoff Higgins, add to the play’s onstage/backstage theme. The “Nothing On” country house, is turned around between acts to reveal the backstage area, complete with props. (The “Noises Off” cast helps put the sets together during intermissions, which looks like quite the workout.)
The play isn’t suited for children, as it contains profanity and sexual comedy. But adults looking for a night out will have a laughter-filled experience at “Noises Off.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the first name of actor Matthew Hanson.