Beck Center's Production of "Noises Off" Keeps the Action and Laughs Flowing

There's a lot going on in the farcical story of a play within a play, and it all works

click to enlarge Beck Center's Production of "Noises Off" Keeps the Action and Laughs Flowing
Courtesy Beck Center

These days, it's almost expected that a play you attend will have no intermission, or one at the most. Part of that is due to theaters seeking out one-act plays since Covid arrived, hoping to minimize excessive audience social contact. So, when you encounter a play with two intermissions, it gets your attention.

The sturdy British farce Noises Off by Michael Frayn, now at the Beck Center, absolutely needs two intervals since the play's set totally switches from "on stage" to "backstage" and back to "on stage" for its three acts. It is a lovely invention for this play-within-a-play, as the actors present the same first act of "Nothing On," a shopworn farce. We see the same act three times—first on tech rehearsal night, then at a performance a month later, and finally at a tour-ending show.

Of course, things go from bad-to-worse-to-ghastly as petty grievances, dressing room romances and a volley of personal idiosyncrasies combine to turn the intended farce into an unintentional mess. And that's a good thing, for the most part.

As directed by Scott Spence, this Noises Off keeps the doors slamming and the stairways fully occupied with bodies flying in all directions, carrying bags and boxes and plates of sardines. As a character notes early on, it's all a jumble— and it requires precise timing to make sure the jokes don't get lost in the flurry.

In this production, the first act works best as the director Lloyd (a nicely snarky Stephen Mitchell Brown) tries to guide his splendidly flawed actors through their paces. Key among those are Eric Fancher as the ever-unhelpful Gary and Scott Esposito as Freddy, who is beset by nosebleeds at the slightest provocation. They combine for many laughs and are accompanied, respectively, by Brooke (Bella Serrano) and Belinda (Sasha Wilson), who add much to the raucous confusion.

In the second act we watch the backstage snits among the actors come to life, accompanied by a bottle of booze, a fire ax, and bouquets of flowers, all of which change hands multiple times. This is the most difficult stanza of the three to stage, since the first act is in progress on the other side of the set's flats.

In this act, Lloyd is reduced to just another klutz in the kluge, and the action often turns into a blur rather than a sharply-defined gag-fest. But Daniel Telford as stage manager Tim and Kelly Strand as assistant stage manager Poppy do what they can to enliven the proceedings.

By the time the third act arrives, the acting troupe has been on the road for weeks and it shows. Cues are dropped, lines are forgotten, and the weak subplots involving taxes and Arabs seem entirely pointless. And that's also a good thing.

Throughout the play, two elderly characters—Dotty who plays the housekeeper Mrs. Clackett and the continually soused actor Selsdon Mowbray—stand apart from the racetrack intensity of stairclimbing and door-slamming imposed on the other performers. That theoretically gives them the opportunity to embellish their characters with some inventive physical schtick.

While Nanna Ingvarsson as Dotty and Bob Keefe as Selsdon create some chuckles with their lines, which they deliver as intended, they don't (or aren't encouraged to) take enough chances with their moments. For instance, in the third act Dotty accidentally wraps herself in a long phone cord. But instead of turning that into a comical escape escapade, she just smoothly extricates herself.

In all, Noises Off is a physically demanding theatrical juggling act for both the performers. And despite some slow moments, this production at the Beck Center manages to keep the laughter flowing.

Noises Off
Through April 16 at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Ave., Lakewood,, 216-521-2540.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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