Most of the laughs from Michael Frayn's farce Noises Off come from action, not dialogue. The play has three acts of nonstop physical comedy including doors slamming, pants falling, and plates of sardines and fire axes juggled among actors with split-second precision. In lesser productions than the great one going on now at Theatre Arlington, things can go terribly wrong if anyone isn't at the top of his or her game.
Director Andy Baldwin, no stranger to farces, having starred in plenty of them at Fort Worth's Circle Theatre, has made sure not to cast any slackers in his Noises Off. No, this bunch is all A-team, wringing every laugh from every scene and then some.
Frayn's play is a tribute to the struggle of actors who have to try to be funny in bad plays. In this one, there's a play-within-the-play called Nothing On, a typical British sex comedy about a country house overrun with frisky uninvited visitors, a forgetful maid, a tipsy burglar and a couple hiding out from tax inspectors. Nobody's supposed to know anyone else is in the two-story house (scenery by Jack Hardaway for Theatre Arlington is just the right size, although the white walls are a bit sterile). When one character's coming in, another's going out. Again and again and again.
Heads bob in and out of all those doors like human cuckoos, except when one of the characters blows a cue (on purpose), driving Nothing On's rumpled director (Ben Phillips) into a quiet fury. The first act of Noises Off finds a low-rent company of players in the final moments of a prolonged dress rehearsal of a show about to go on tour. In the second act, we see what happens backstage as the six performers in Nothing On try to keep it going while throwing hissy fits behind the curtain. For the third short act, the Nothing On bunch is at the end of their six-month run, tired of it all and barely able to get through it without killing each other.
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For all this complicated stuff to be funny, it has to gallop. Those props have to fly. Baldwin keeps his cast jumping like frogs on a skillet. Shane Beeson is terrific as Gary, the hilariously dumb male ingénue. Mikaela Krantz, so thin she doesn't cast a shadow, plays a myopic bimbo who spends scant moments between lines picking at navel lint. She's the funniest undressed actress of the year so far.
The others - Krista Scott as the actress playing the distracted maid, Sherry Hopkins as the gossipy leading lady, Brad Stephens as a method actor given to nosebleeds, Michael James as the old Shakespearean, Robin Daniel as the crazed stage manager and Eric Dobbins as the sleep-deprived stagehand - are an ensemble as tight as those overworked sardines.
If you're in need of a night of big laughs, your next stop should be Noises Off. Noises Off continues through January 29 at Theatre Arlington, 305 W. Main St., Arlington. Call 817-275-7661.