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In ‘Noises Off,’ Backstage Is Brought Front and Center

Noelle Viñas , a student at Lake Braddock Secondary School, reviews James Madison High School’s “Noises Off."

Enoises off 2.jpg
(Courtesy of Jake Beck)

The only thing funnier than a great comedy is the actors who put it on and the ridiculous lives they lead.

“Noises Off,” a play by Michael Frayn, is about second-rate actors who cannot keep their emotional, dramatic personal lives separate from their melodramatic careers as they attempt to live through the tour of “Nothing On.” A British play-within-a-play that opened in London at the Lyric Theatre in 1982, the show involves a series of misunderstandings, severe alcoholism, love triangles and lack of talent.

The play requires the utmost attention from its production staff, and the comedic timing is so precise that it can easily be bungled by even the most superior group of actors.

Although at points there was some lack of projection from the actors, James Madison High School’s ensemble performed the show with remarkable farcical skill, rarely leaving a moment when the audience wasn’t chuckling.

As the temperamental and achingly sarcastic theater director Lloyd Dallas, Trey Ervine used facetious line delivery and a forced monotone to portray the self-centered womanizer through facetious line delivery.

As the voice of reason, Jeannie Melcher’s Belinda Blair was comical as she attempted to keep her cool, with bit lips, clenched fists and strong slapstick. As things went downhill, her unnerved facial expressions were a source of hilarity.
“It’s just... you know?”

Garry Lejuene’s lack of cohesive speech was well-rendered by Jake Beckhard, with a salient talent for delivery as his character attempted to ad-lib lines even after the “play” had gone down the tubes.

The absent-minded but high-strung assistant manager Poppy Norton-Taylor was played wholeheartedly by Rachel McManus to the last frazzled, stray hair. She took control of the role with every aspect of her performance — from a lopsided run to a desperate puppy-dog look as she attempted to kindly explain to the apathetic director that she was pregnant with his child.

McKenna Weipert as Dotty Ottley “botched” her cockney-accented lines to an uproarious extent as each quandary unfolded.

“Sardines, love, what’d I do with the sardines?”

With a running gag about sardines and their placement onstage, props management, by Kelly Cayer and Nicole Pradas, was often a nightmare as actors strew papers about the stage, broke phone cords and tossed sardines for the sake of revenge. Keeping all of these objects straight added to stayed the verisimilitude of the play.

A few sound cues were too loud, but for the most part they were on cue and often incited a bout of laughter from the audience. Sound effects, by Sean McElligot, maintained the outrageous atmosphere of the play, with a bouncy waltz that perfectly juxtaposed the peril backstage.

It takes an inordinate amount of skill to play something that you are not. At Madison High, it took a group of gifted students to achieve every little nuance of a play about the perils of the theater. And although it was clear that every one of the characters was in severe need of therapy, to the audience there was no better therapy than a classic comedy brilliantly executed.

By Washington Post Editors  |  November 25, 2008; 11:11 AM ET
 
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