At age 32, it may be premature to declare Michael Frayn’s Noises Off a classic. But as the Rubicon Theatre Company’s intermittently uproarious production makes clear, this extremely clever comedy has lost none of its freshness. Yes, the type of British sex farce it lovingly mocks is a rather distant relic at this point. But the primal emotions on display — love, lust, pride, and embarrassment, to name four — are timeless, as is the joy of watching skilled actors perform physical gags that require perfect timing.
Frayn’s play begins at the final rehearsal of a witless stage comedy. We watch with sympathy as the increasingly exasperated director (Lloyd Dallas) attempts to cajole his cast into something resembling competence. Act Two takes us backstage during a performance of the show a month later, when the rivalries and petty behavior we witnessed earlier have bloomed into a festival of mutual backstabbing. It’s genuinely brilliant — a farce conducted in virtual silence (necessitated by the circumstances) that builds to a crescendo of hilarity rivaling the best moments of classic silent films. Act Three brings us back out front to witness the last night of the run, at which point the cast’s we-give-up attitude creates its own brand of comical chaos.
Director Kenneth Albers is a distinguished veteran, so one guesses the production’s shortcomings stem from the same problem the fictional director moans about — insufficient rehearsal time. How else to explain why the actors aren’t all on the same page? Some — notably Rudolph Willrich and Alyson Lindsay — play their characters broadly, with very funny results. Others, however, play them relatively straight, and are considerably less vivid. Andrew Borba did the best job of mining the pathos underneath the comedy: as a self-effacing, middle-aged actor who can’t stop asking about his character’s motivation, he conveys vulnerability without sacrificing laughs.
Thomas Giamario’s set and Marcy Froehlich’s costumes do the job well enough, although a few more whimsical or off-kilter touches wouldn’t have hurt. That said, none of these caveats matter when we’re howling with laughter over a missed cue, a malfunctioning doorknob, or a prop that isn’t there. For anyone who has suffered nightmares about screwing up royally while being watched, Noises Off will offer loads of relatable laughter.