Noises Off

Austin Playhouse stages this chaotic, ridiculous backstage farce with precision and fun

Those damned sardines: the cross that Dotty (Bernadette Nason) bears in <i>Noises Off</i>'s play within the play, <i>Nothing On</i>
Those damned sardines: the cross that Dotty (Bernadette Nason) bears in Noises Off's play within the play, Nothing On (Photo courtesy of Christopher Loveless)

Noises Off

Austin Playhouse at Highland Mall, 6001 Airport, 512/476-0084
Through May 26
Running time: 2 hr., 30 min.

There aren't many shows that make one appreciate the value of a really good running crew – the all-but-unsung heroes of the theatre world without whom staging most plays would be pretty much impossible. Noises Off, as mounted by Austin Playhouse, is a show that is so complicated and so carefully choreographed that one can't help but admire just how good the running crew is under the leadership of production stage manager Barry Miller.

Michael Frayn's play does get one thinking about theatre from all angles, as it were. The first act shows a company of actors enmeshed in a chaotic dress rehearsal for a fictional farce called Nothing On. Director Lloyd Dallas (David Stahl) marshals his actors through their paces, battling his own ego and their idiosyncrasies and poor memories in an eleventh-hour attempt to get through the show once, just once, before opening. But the second act pulls a literal 180, featuring a run of the same play, but this time from backstage.

Noises Off includes two intermissions, and if your knees can handle remaining in one place for that long, it's worth watching the crew disassemble and reassemble the entire set. Designer Patrick Crowley's work is dictated by the play's strict requirements – two floors of doors that must be opened and slammed shut many, many times – but it's still fun to see how the company presents the set and many props (from designer Holly Crowley).

Noises Off is a farce. It is chaotic and ridiculous, and its characters run about in a state of hysteria for most of the show, which requires careful choreography and actors with excellent timing. The second act is perhaps the most enjoyable, as we see the actors silently engaged in their own battles of jealousy, desire, anger, and desperation, only to be interrupted by the unavoidable need to show up on the other side of the set, in character, at that very moment.

Don Toner's direction is admirable in that the actors hit their marks with precision – no small feat in a show like this. Opening night saw the cast almost but not completely in sync with their performances. At times, actors seemed to anticipate the quick, farcical leaps from passion to panic – knowing that in about two seconds, one would need to switch gears from nursing a bloody nose to dashing up the stairs, or from serene meditation to girlish flattery, so the critical element of surprise wasn't quite there. Like the bottle of whiskey pursued by the elderly, hard-of-hearing, and alcoholic actor Selsdon (Tom Parker), that sense of spontaneity is very much within reach, if the actors can just get their hands around it. One hopes that as the run continues and the actors gain greater ease with their complicated parts, this fun and enjoyable show will land on that little detail of rhythm that takes a performance from good to great.

More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Salvage Vanguard Theater's <i>Thr3e Zisters</i>
Salvage Vanguard Theater's Thr3e Zisters
This zombified take on Chekhov gets reanimated right when we need women who will bite back at the patriarchy

Robert Faires, Feb. 17, 2017

Ballet Austin's <i>Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty & the Beast</i>
Ballet Austin's Belle Redux: A Tale of Beauty & the Beast
In its striking concept and execution, Stephen Mills' take on the fairy tale was his most fully realized story ballet since Hamlet

Robert Faires, Feb. 17, 2017

More by Elizabeth Cobbe
Zach Theatre's <i>The Great Society</i>
Zach Theatre's The Great Society
Robert Schenkkan's smart script and remarkable ensemble work make this a powerful look at LBJ's White House years

Feb. 3, 2017

Austin Playhouse's <i>Bloomsday</i>
Austin Playhouse’s Bloomsday
Steven Dietz's rumination on a great love lost lacks some of the vivid passion it needs in this staging

Jan. 20, 2017


Noises Off, Austin theatre, Austin Playhouse, Don Toner, Patrick Crowley, Holly Crowley, David Stahl, Tom Parker, Michael Frayn

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)