BGSU’s “Noises Off” brings on roars of laughter

By DAVID DUPONT

By BG Independent News

The actress playing the housekeeper in “Nothing On” is struggling during the dress rehearsal.

The play is about to open and she’s still trying to learn her lines. Some of what comes out of her mouth, allows the director, does have a ring of familiarity. The actress says, her brain is like a slot machine—she’s not sure what’s going to pop up, two oranges, a lemon or even bananas.

“Nothing On” is a play within the play “Noises Off,” and by the time we get out final shout out to sardines, it’s all bananas.

Ashli York as Dotty Otley

Ashli York as Dotty Otley

The classic theatrical farce “Noises Off`” opens tonight at 8 p.m. in the Donnell Theatre in the Bowling Green State University’s Wolfe Center for the Arts. It continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Advance tickets are $15 and $5 for students. All tickets are $20 the day of the performance. Visit bgsu.edu/arts or call the box office at 419-372-8171.

Directed by Geoff Stephenson, “Noises Off” is a well-oiled piece of comic chaos. The show is full of fainting, pratfalls, dropping trousers, stuck doors, and multiple servings of sardines that appear and disappear as if they had a will of their own.

The play opens during the dress rehearsal of a touring company’s production of “Nothing On,” a British bedroom farce. Dotty Ortley (Ashli York) who plays the dithering maid is, well, dithering, speaking her lines and musing aloud on what she should do until interrupted by the director Lloyd Dallas (Jared Dorotiak). Dallas is a genius, at least in his own mind. He’s not above comparing himself to Yahweh of the Old Testament, though in his dalliances with the youngest women in the company, he’s more like a Greek god.

From left, Madi Short,  Zach Robb, and Ashli York  rehearsing for "Noises Off" at BGSU.

From left, Madi Short, Zach Robb, and Ashli York rehearsing for “Noises Off” at BGSU.

One by one we meet the cast as they crash or wander on to make their entrances. First to arrive are the pair Garry Lejeune (Zach Robb) and Brooke Ashton (Madi Short). They play a couple stopping by the house for a dalliance. Lejeune is also married to Dotty and is quite perplexed by the state of affairs and Dallas’ direction. Brooke, on the other hand, is oblivious to everything. Her idea of acting is flaying arm gestures to punctuate her lines. Next on are Freddy Fellowes (Austin Packard) and Belinda Blair (Micala Behrens) playing the couple who own the home but for tax reasons live in Spain.

Fellowes needs reasons for his character’s actions. Why does he carry the box out of the room? That it needs to be out of the way for a bit of business later is not good enough. So the director deftly improvises a bit of nonsensical motivation that Fellowes happily accepts. Blair is something of a steadying influence amid all this, though being steady just means she’s an enabler of multiple strains of misbehavior.

Selsdon Mowbray (Quincy Thomas) is a down and out elder actor who Dotty has encouraged the company to hire. Given his taste for alcohol, he has a tendency to disappear, so a spare set of his burglar costumes must always be handy.

When he makes his entrance as the burglar, who is astounded by the house’s lack of security, he utters the line as if it were penned by Shakespeare.

The much-put-upon stage manager Tim Allgood (Ryan Borgo) also serves as Mowbray’s understudy as well as doing most of what else is necessary to try to get the show up and keep the director’s love life on course.

Which brings us to the young, vulnerable and out-of-her-element Poppy (Sarah Drummer).

The second act takes us back stage courtesy of the revolving set, which is almost a character in and of itself. The actors with pantomime and wild gestures try to cope with their own personal dramas while they make their entrances and exits from the play. This creates a wonderful interweaving of the action as actors step from the play into the backstage drama and then back again. Their own lives prove to be more interesting and ridiculous than those of the characters they portray.

By the third act, we see the play from the audience’s point of view again. It’s clear that the dress rehearsal seen in the first act was probably as good as the production ever got. By now Dotty has given up all pretense of knowing her lines or stage directions, forcing everyone either charge through the script even when it makes no sense or improvise. Whatever course they take, it just leads to more hilarity.

All this tumbling, bumbling and botched lines have to be, and are, executed with precise comic timing.

The play has two intermissions. The business with rotating the set necessitates that. The audience will also welcome a break to sort out what they’ve just witnessed and to get a break from laughing.

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