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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
NOISES OFF
at American Airlines Theatre

SEND IN THE CLOWNS
By MATT WINDMAN

  Jeremy Shamos, Kate Jennings Grant, David Furr, Andrea Martin and Campbell Scott/ Ph: Joan Marcus

There’s no need for radical reinvention when it comes to Noises Off, Michael Frayn’s (Copenhagen, Democracy) 1982 trouser-falling, door-slamming farce about a third-rate troupe of actors putting on a third-rate English sex farce, which is now receiving its second Broadway revival via the ubiquitous nonprofit group Roundabout Theatre Company. We could get into a debate over whether Roundabout ought to be doing a commercially appealing title like Noises Off instead of a less well-known play, but let’s leave that for another day.

For Noises Off to work on just a basic level, its thoroughly intricate physical activity (including but not limited to essentially all of its brilliant second act) must be staged with the precision of a ballet. But a great production, which this revival certainly is, builds the slapstick around truthful performances, thus making the chaos feel natural and inevitable. (It is also far better than the 2001 revival with Patti LuPone, Faith Prince and Katie Finneran.)

The play opens on the pitiful dress rehearsal of an inane British sex farce (for which audience members at Noises Off receive a separate program), where nothing seems to be going right. Lines are missed, props won’t work, the condescending director is in the midst of multiple affairs and losing his patience, and one older actor, possibly drunk, keeps disappearing.

Act two, set backstage during an actual performance, is a tour-de-force of silent comedy, with the actors playing pranks on each other due to misunderstandings and volatile emotions. The final act, set during yet another performance of the play, gets even crazier, and all sense of order is lost as the cast relies on improvisation to somehow make it to the end.

Jeremy Herrin, who recently staged the didactic English history pageant Wolf Hall on Broadway, was an unlikely choice to serve as the director. Nevertheless, he has brought together a thoroughly dynamic ensemble cast of stage veterans including Andrea Martin (Pippin), Campbell Scott (Royal Pains), Tracee Chimo (Bad Jews), Daniel Davis (The Nanny), David Furr (The Importance of Being Earnest at Roundabout), Kate Jennings Grant (The Lyons), Megan Hilty (Smash), Rob McClure (Chaplin) and Jeremy Shamos (countless Off-Broadway plays).

Each performer gets plenty of moments to shine. Hilty is especially memorable as a buxom, airheaded actress, often waiving her arms like a cheerleader doing a routine. Shamos is endearing as a sensitive actor who gets nosebleeds at the slightest hint of violence. As Dottie, a once-popular television actress trying to stake a claim in the theater, Martin displays both excitement (especially at her first entrance) and the air of a diva of the lower echelon.

In addition to the laughs, there is an air of melancholy to this production. You never doubt that these actors are struggling like hell to make it to the end of the play in spite of all obstacles. Noises Off may be full of clowning, but this production is led by sad clowns. And to that I say, send in the clowns!

 


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