Magnum Farce

Another Noises Off? Yes, but pants-dropping time at Stage West lacks many of the play's big laughs

Almost everyone has his or her moment of high-end hilarity in Noises Off—this script would be funny if it were performed by sock puppets—but overall the Stage West production tends to sag a tad where it should be tight and bright. Pam Daugherty comes off tired and exasperated in every role she plays, and that works when she's Mrs. Clackett, but not when she's "Dotty Otley," the aging TV star hoping Nothing On will be her comeback vehicle. As skin-baring tart Vicki and as Brooke, the bit of fluff playing her, Pistorius isn't daffy enough by half. (In the mostly terrible 1992 movie version directed by Peter Bogdanovich, the only one who got the tone right was, believe it or not, Nicolette Sheridan, who made Vicki/Brooke a sweet but idiotic bombshell.)

As the ever-frazzled but always frisky director Lloyd (he's diddling two actresses AND the pretty stage manager), Alex Chrestopoulos retreats when he should attack. Lloyd is one Paxil away from a breakdown as he watches his final dress rehearsal of Nothing On disintegrate before him. If ever an actor had license to roar, it's with Lloyd. But at Stage West, Chrestopoulos is so subtle with reactions he could be doing Beckett. He's also a bit of a mumbler, making him hard to hear from the back of the house.

Jerry Russell, the boss at Stage West, gets some fine bits of business as the hard-of-hearing but strong-of-drinking Selsdon Mowbray, the old actor playing the burglar who consistently disappears right before his entrance cue and then blows his crucial, act-ending line.

Jerry Russell (center) loses a fight over a backstage booze bottle in Stage West's Noises Off.
Buddy Myers
Jerry Russell (center) loses a fight over a backstage booze bottle in Stage West's Noises Off.

Tech- and design-wise, this Noises Off is way off. Scenic designer Jim Covault, who also directed this production, has made the main room in the playwright's home antiseptically bare. The lumber on the staircase is more fishing cabin than country mansion. And why are there eight doors on this set when the script calls for seven? (Odd numbers being funnier than even.)

Covault also has gone fuzzy on the physical comedy the second act depends upon. In wild pantomime the Nothing On cast juggles among them a fire axe, several bouquets, a bottle of booze, plates of sardines and other props. But the Stage West bunch does it like sleight of hand instead of the more visual Roman comedy slapstick that would get bigger laughs.

Covault has also done the costumes. Our sympathies to the pretty Miss Pistorius, stuck in the tightest, ugliest underthings imaginable.

The message of Noises Off, if there is one, is that sometimes the worst productions stick in the memory longer than the best. As flabby as Stage West's attempt at farce can be at times, it's still good professional theater. Not at all like that Dracula that once played on a Dallas stage, where the actors kept forgetting to use the door to the castle and instead walked on and off around the edge of the set. Or Some Like It Hot at the Music Hall, starring a doddering Tony Curtis, who had to be supported by chorus boys under each arm just to walk downstage, where he read his lines haltingly from large video screens placed stage right and stage left.

As memorable as these were, it helps when both cast and audience are in on the joke.

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