Review: Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s “Noises Off”

by Jody Key — Managing Editor — February 13, 2019

Editor’s note — as Noises Off is a play of British origin and so as not to show disrespect to the playwright, this article will use the spelling of theatRE as opposed to the American spelling or theatER. Carry on and enjoy the review!

They say laughter is the best medicine, and Gainesville Theatre Alliance has your prescription with the first of their February Festival offerings, Noises Off, which opened last night to an enthusiastic audience. Noises Off is the hilarious comedy written in 1982 by Michael Frayn. Touted by New York Times writer Frank Rich as “the funniest play ever written in my lifetime”, Noises Off is a farcical look at the lives of stage actors and their craft.

Similar to the long-running show Seinfeld, this is a play about nothing–except maybe sardines and doors. Michael Frayn’s idea came to him in the 1970s when he wrote a farcical play for Lynn Redgrave. He found that the action backstage was funnier than in front, and decided to write this behind the scenes look at live theatre.

Noises Off is the story of Otstat Productions Ltd, a British theatre troupe performing Nothing On, a sex farce where women run around in their underthings, old men drop their trousers, doors are open shut, and sardines are continuously prepared, but never actually eaten. The play is divided into 3 acts: 1. The dress rehearsal; 2. A performance from the perspective of backstage; 3. The closing night performance. Hilarity ensues from the onset as the audience realizes what they are witnessing isn’t a play itself, but rather a dress rehearsal. The opening character, Dottie (who plays the housekeeper, Mrs. Clakcett), can’t remember her prop cues, and the director’s booming voice comes from the audience as he calls a hold to set Dottie straight. Suddenly, the audience is transformed into invisible flies on the wall as they glimpse a comical behind the scenes look at the cast and crew of Nothing On. From this point on, the audience is treated to witty dialogue and uproarious physical comedy which continues to build up until the side-splitting end of the show.

While this brilliant play has been performed for over 40 years, it is as fresh and frolicksome today as it was in 1982. In addition, when performed by the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, Noises Off is exhilarating! Director Jim Hammond has done an excellent job of assembling a stellar cast who play off each other brilliantly in this fast-paced physical comedy.

I’m only hoping you can keep up with the list of who’s who in this review as real-life people play true-to-life characters in Noises Off who play the parts in Nothing On.

To begin with, Zechariah Pierce, a current faculty member at GTA plays Lloyd Dallas the director of Nothing On (that booming voice in the audience aforementioned two paragraphs prior to this). His character is highly sarcastic and patronizingly condescending. Lloyd is the perfect study of a nightmare director, and Pierce portrays him in excellent fashion.

GTA continues its longstanding tradition of bringing in professional artists to work alongside the students. GTA grad Catie Councell (as the absent-minded cougar Dottie Otley who plays housekeeper Mrs. Clackett) and Alex Van (as the very fond of the drink Selsdon Mowbray who plays the burglar) lend their professionalism to this production, both having an impressive stage and screen resume. Their performances are top-notch delightful.

Madeline Brashier (as the air-headed young actress Brooke Ashton who plays an equally air-headed tax-agent Vicki) delivers a lively and intentional over-the-top performance. Madeline masters the art of overdramatization–Brooke’s signature acting style. While Brooke may overplay her part, she knows her scenes and never misses a mark.

Sammy Nelson (as the gregarious Garry Lejuene who plays estate agent Roger) does an excellent job of never finishing a sentence, using hand gestures as opposed to words. He is a master in the art of pratfalls and I have no idea how he is able to fall down a flight of stairs nightly without doing major bodily harm.

Ali Bhamani (as Frederick Fellowes who plays Philip Brent, Owner of the Estate) and Geanna Funes (as Belinda Blair who plays Flavia Brent, Philip’s wife) both turn in amusing performances. Frederick’s chronic nosebleeds and aversion to blood, and Belinda’s attempt to keep peace among all the cast members come across beautifully in the hands of these two performers.

Ofek Odair (as Tim the stagehand, master carpenter, and understudy) and Taylor Sage Priday (as Poppy, the stage manager and understudy) are the unsung heroes in this production. Without the crew, the show can’t go on. These long-suffering characters endure the slings and arrows that fly at the technical crew with grace and patience, sometimes stumbling over each other in the process. Both Ofek and Taylor do a remarkable job. Taylor is a master of facial expressions, and Ofek does a great job playing a humble and obedient stagehand.

A very special mention is to be made for the set designer, the late W. Joseph Stell who designed the original set for GTA’s production of Noises Off in 1997. This fantastic set has been recreated and is extremely impressive. Comprised of both the stage in front and backstage behind, the entire set rotates on a giant turntable for an efficient scene change between acts.

This show is all-around Key Noteworthy and a must-see performance. Noises Off runs from February 12-23 at the Hosch Theatre in the Brenau University Bird Center for the Arts. Tickets can be purchased at https://blog.ung.edu/gta/ or call the GTA box office at 678-717-3624

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