NOISES OFF Turns The Laughter On In O'Fallon

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Mike McPartland, Anthony Wininger, Cassie Elam and Bill Blanke in NOISES OFF thru Mar 13, 2016. Photo Credit: John Davidson

I’m a bit of a comedy snob. I can’t stand stupid comedy: low brow, “Whoa, Dude, I’m like, whatever!” fare is completely lost on me. I appreciate a more subtle hand in humor, a sly wit, a surprising turn of phrase. The British to be particularly adept at that brand of comedy, so it was much to my delight that I watched NOISES OFF, a stage comedy written by celebrated English playwright Michael Frayn and directed by Melissa Boyer for the O’FallonTheatreWorks. My only dismay is that it took me so long to discover this hilarious play.

NOISES OFF is a play within a play, or more accurately a farce within a farce, so hang on tight because this might be a bit tricky to explain. We in the audience are witnessing the final rehearsal of NOTHING ON, a presumably more serious production directed by Lloyd Dallas, a mercurial fellow played by Anthony Wininger. His leading lady, Vicki, who plays Brooke Ashton in NOTHIN ON, both of whom are played by Cassie Elam – I told you this was going to get confusing! – has a tendency to lose her contact lenses at inopportune moments. She is paired with Roger, aka Garry Lejeune, actually Jeff Loyd (I believe the spelling in the playbill was incorrect—just one L, I’m told, though the internet suggests that Gary is spelled in the English flavour with two Rs), who has some peculiar but hilarious speech patterns. Jadienne Nolan plays Dotty Otley who in turn plays Mrs. Clacket in the inside production. She’s the housekeeper with a mind like a steel sieve. Ben Ketcherside is Frederick “Freddy” Fellowes, who acts as Phillip Brent alongside his on stage wife Flavia, portrayed by Kim Morris as Belinda Blair. Bill Blanke plays Selsdon Mowbray, a once well-respected actor now merely acting at sobriety. Amanda McMichael is Poppy Norton-Taylor, the assistant stage manager for the Grand Theatre. Tim Allgood, the Stage Manager who hasn’t slept in days while getting the massive set piece constructed, is played by Mike McPartland.

If you’ve made it this far and feel like you have a pretty clear understanding of who is playing whom and when, congratulations! If you’re confused then you should get a ticket for one of this weekend’s performances so you can sort it out for yourself. If the cast list isn’t convoluted enough for you, let’s connect the dots on their relationships: Lloyd is intimate with both Vicki and Poppy; Dotty likes Garry but flirts with Freddy; Garry likewise likes Dotty and is intensely jealous of Freddy; Freddy is a bit scattershot and very squeamish when it comes to blood or violence, and never seems to notice how Dotty plays Garry against him; Selsdon just loves the bottle; and Tim would love to go to sleep. Belinda is arguably the only sensible one in the cast. If ever there was a production that needed a flowchart or a Venn diagram in the playbook, this would be it. Then again, Venn diagrams aren’t nearly as uproariously funny as NOISES OFF.  

Despite how convoluted the last two paragraphs were to describe, NOISES OFF flowed beautifully. It felt a little like watching a live taping of A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION but with the cast of MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS substituting for Garrison Keillor. I was surprised and immediately bemused to discover soon after the play began that Anthony Wininger was seated just across the aisle from me, much as a stage director might do during rehearsal to make sure the cast’s blocking and queues made sense from the audience’s perspective. I then noticed a guy snoozing between two stacks of stairs, dressed like a burglar in the archetypical black and white striped shirt and a stocking cap pulled low over his eyes. This was Bill Blanke, sleeping off another Selsdon Mowbray bender, and I had walked right past him on my way to my seat without having noticed him at all. With the director acting from among the audience, you get pulled into the chaos of missed lines, missed queues, technical malfunctions, prop misplacements, and anything else that could possibly go wrong a scant twelve hours before the curtain goes up for tomorrow’s matinee. The second act flips the set up, literally, and we see the first act again from backstage. Robert Hanson crafted a marvelous set that towers in the O’Fallon City Hall gymnasium space used for this production, which rotated surprisingly smoothly to give us the actors’ backstage vantage point. The second act contains some of the best comedic acting I’ve ever seen in person, as the players silently squabble, argue, cajole, and try to fix faux pas on the fly while the NOTHING ON production plays out on the other side much as it did in rehearsal, the primary difference being that Garry is now at full-out war with Freddy, Vicki wants to quit after being slighted by Lloyd, who himself is struggling to hold the show together. The third act shows the production a little further down the road on tour, and even more of a train wreck than ever.

I would happily watch any of these actors again, but found Jeff Loyd (I sure hope I’ve got that right), Anthony Wininger and Jadienne Nolan really held my attention even with so many other things to take in at any given moment. The production doesn’t overly concern itself with maintaining British accents so on the way home I found myself thinking of famous American actors who could play their parts. Jeff reminded me of William H. Macy with his delivery and vocal mannerisms, frequently closing his lines with “you know?” which amounts to much of his dialogue being about nothing at all. Anthony reminded me of Richard Lewis, acerbic, authoritative, and a bit neurotic as he alternated between charming and cruel. Jadienne nailed the scatter-minded Mrs. Clacket, constantly providing opportunities for laughter, and getting that reaction consistently. Jeff and Mike McPartland deserve special recognition for their physical performances, as both take some seriously unforgiving pratfalls in this show. Cassie Elam showed guts (and legs…and…) walking around for much of the show in her negligee and panties. Ben Ketcherside, Kim Morris and Amanda McMichael each played their parts to perfection, with Ben capturing Freddy’s naiveté, Kim being the reliable professional, and Amanda hiding Poppy’s long, slow buildup to her explosive announcement that sends the whole production into a tailspin behind her disarmingly pretty smile.

St. Louis has a lot of quality theatre groups putting on some amazing shows around town, and St. Charles County is not without some serious talent as well. Melissa Boyer, the cast and crew of O’FallonTheatreWorks put on a captivating, side-splitting production of a Tony Award winning play that any theatre group would be proud of, from Broadway in New York to 100 N. Main Street in O’Fallon, MO. For more information on tickets and directions, please visit NOISES OFF only runs for one more weekend, Mar 11 – 13, so don’t wait to get tickets. Missing a stellar comedy like this would just be absurd! 

5.0 / 5.0