Skylight’s ‘Noises Off’ a Fast-Paced Farce

But its first staging ever of non-musical (with musical interludes) less fun than it should be.

By - Mar 21st, 2023 12:48 pm
The cast in rehearsal for Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Noises Off. Photo by Mark Frohna.

The cast in rehearsal for Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Noises Off. Photo by Mark Frohna.

Skylight artistic director Michael Unger calls Noises Off the funniest play ever written. That’s a slightly higher regard than mine, but his view is shared by many theater companies who have turned to Michael Frayn’s very British farce for 40 years as an almost magical touchstone of surefire humor. It is vaudeville theatrical as the audience is drawn into watching how a typical British sex comedy get tangled up in three progressive comedic views of its first act – technical rehearsal followed by backstage falling apart followed by total disaster during the last-legs touring production.

It’s a farce of so many slamming doors, broken furniture and comedic entanglements that a good production has one thing in common with the sort of musical theater Skylight normally does – it functions with metronomic precision. As long as you don’t sense the metronome and start to nod your head in time.

Here we do. The patrons laugh at many antics. The rollout is droll. The leading cast members have mastered the acrobatics of farce. Set designer Todd Rosenthal has impressively created multiple doors and flying dresses on a turntable set so we relish the inside as much as the misbehaving front. The mechanics are always in front of us.

Director Unger must have seen some fine productions of Noises Off over the decades because the rhythm is there though the heart of the mischief is gone from much of the proceedings, such as extended takes when the sexpot loses her contact lenses, or leading men warring comedically over an aging actress, or a plate of sardines tossed like hand grenades among the players.

The disappointment is surprising since the cast boasts some fine farceurs, led by veteran actor Matt Daniels as the fuming in-production director. When Daniels with his superb timing seems to be stretching, you know you are in trouble.

He is supported by actors also nimble of limb and voice including Jake Horstmeier and Max Pink, with double-takes by old-hand in sarcasm Linda Mugleston to drive the main scenes. There is capable if stereotyped support from several others in the large cast (it also includes mistaken identity) and all crawl and climb with comic exactitude. The reasons why they are doing this have to be made clearer even in farce.

This through April 2 is the first play ever without requiring music from the Skylight Music Theatre, but Unger makes up for that with two intermissions featuring a semi-modern lounge act with its ensemble of fine musicians pretending to be a band called The Sardines and a fine soprano artiste, Leah Gawel, swaying center stage in an evening gown. Her musical set is all be-bop and la-la-las as she shakes her right hand as if playing a maraca.

The interludes are pleasant and don’t particularly fit or clash with the play, and they also allow the audience to see how the stage set is wheeled around on the turntable.

It also provides an amusing problem for the Skylight and the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, which occupies the studio space next door where there are bathrooms Skylight patrons are accustomed to using. Except that the first intermission of Noises Off would create a flush disturbing the cast of Hoops so patrons are shooed away, sent upstairs to restrooms there, where some were clearly worrying that they had missed an important tune out of the dozen played during intermissions. Worry not – neither the production nor interludes are all that earth-shaking.

Noises Off Gallery

Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blogs here and here.

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