Sex and sardines: City Theatre’s ‘Noises Off’ is an energetic farce

Michael Frayn’s 1982 play “Noises Off” is perhaps the most-produced English-language farce, popular with professional and community theaters across the United States and the United Kingdom. It is, in some ways, the theatrical version of “How did the chicken cross the road?”; its humor relies on the way it twists and turns traditional farce by distorting expectations.

“Noises Off.” Contributed by Aleksander Ortynski

“Noises Off” begins as a traditional sex farce, embodied by the play-within-a-play “Nothing On,” which features several amorous characters running around a country house bringing plates of sardines on and off stage while banging doors open and closed with perfect comedic timing. It’s a play that’s all about, as the characters of “Noises Off” frequently remind us, “Doors and sardines.”

“Noises Off,” itself, takes us behind those doors, and shows us what happens to the sardines when offstage and in the hands of a group of actors and stage managers with a variety of conflicts among themselves. Each act of the play features either a rehearsal or a performance of the first act of “Nothing On.” Act One shows us the final rehearsal; Act Two a performance from back-stage; and Act Three one of the final, disastrous performances from the audience’s perspective.

The City Theatre’s new production of “Noises Off,” running through March 11, reminds us why it is such a popular play. The fast-paced antics of the actors, in both their onstage and offstage personas, create a delightful ensemble piece that works hard to milk every last laugh.

“Noises Off” is something of a passion project for director J. Kevin Smith, who has served both backstage and as an actor in two previous productions. His love for the play shines through in the attention to detail in the enthusiastic staging, aided and abetted by properties master Emily Durden and costume designer Scout Gutzmerson. The production’s set is something to behold in and of itself; designer Kakii Keenan, along with assistant designer Blossom Bennett, have created a mobile set of doors and stairs that the stage crew rotates during the play’s two intermissions, turning the show both literally and figuratively inside out.

The cast of “Noises Off” is nothing if not energetic, with a range of comedy styles appealing to many different tastes. Brent Rose, as Gary, is all manic excitement, his lanky frame the perfect canvas for a highly physical performance, while Sean Hannigan’s Selsdon is far more subtle and wry, and Stacy Trammell’s approach to the young ingénue Brooke imbues the character’s dim-wittedness with an almost surrealist aura. The entire cast particularly shines in the largely pantomimed second act, where they excel at the broad physical humor demanded by the scene.

“Noises Off” is ultimately meant to be nothing more than a bit of fun, and in this regard City Theatre’s new production wildly succeeds, creating an evening of wackiness, hijinks and, of course, doors and sardines.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through March 11
Where: 3823 Airport Blvd.
Cost: $10-$25

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