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
www.austinplayhouse.com
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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
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
Staging <i>Human Resources: The Musical</i> Despite the Pandemic
Staging Human Resources: The Musical Despite the Pandemic
Mallory Schlossberg knew she'd face challenges staging her new musical now, but she decided to just do it and figure it out

Dec. 4, 2020

<i>Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents</i> by Isabel Wilkerson
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
In her second book, the author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines and breaks down the unacknowledged social structure baked into our country

Rosalind Faires, Nov. 13, 2020

More by Elizabeth Cobbe
Book Review: <i>Network Effect</i> by Martha Wells
Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells
In this first full-length novel featuring Murderbot, the violent but endearing rogue AI is back for more adventures to delight "all the stupid humans"

July 31, 2020

Sad Girls Productions’ <i>So Lucky</i>
Sad Girls Productions' So Lucky
This world premiere from a brand-new company lacks polish, but it does honor its community’s stories

March 20, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

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

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle