The most farcical farce of all

Harlequin presents Noises Off

By Alec Clayton on January 23, 2020

The verdict has long been in: Noises Off is funny. New York Post critic Clive Barnes called it "the funniest farce ever written," and Frank Rich in The New York Times said it "is, was, and probably always will be the funniest play written in my lifetime."

For directors and actors, it is one of the greatest challenges ever. It's like a Marx Brothers movie with nine Marx Brothers. Building the set and manipulating set changes, plus the complicated pratfalls and complex choreographing of the movement throughout would tax the best of actors and directors. Director Corey McDaniel and his nine-person professional cast at Harlequin Productions is more than up to the challenge.

An error prone theater produces a comedy called Nothing On, and -- no surprise here, this is the oldest comic trope in the book -- everything that can possibly go wrong does. Doors won't open or won't stay closed, props get lost or misplaced, costumes fall off, people trip, fall and constantly miss maiming each other by inches. They swing axes, sit on plates of sardines, stuff sardines down their shirts, and get stuck in the rear end with cactus spines. Plus there is a plethora of backstage romances involving much deception. Simultaneously, in another classic comic trope, people go in and out of the multiple doors and windows, narrowly missing each other.

One of the actors, Rich Hawkins as Selsdon Mowbray is a drunk who plays an incompetent burgler who keeps getting lost backstage and making his entrances at the wrong time. Yet it turns out that Mowbray is the best actor in the play within a play, which explains why the cast works so hard to keep him sober. Jason Haws plays Garry Lejuene, an actor who argues constantly with the Nothing On director Lloyd Dallas, played by Alexander Samuels. When Haws' character is forced to adlib, which is practically every line, he can never complete a sentence. Aaron Lamb's character keeps fainting at the most inappropriate moments and getting tripped up and losing his pants.

In Act One, the troop is in the final dress rehearsal. The set is the living room of a country home. The homeowners are away. The housekeeper, Dotty (Lisa Viertel), sets a plate of sardines on an end table and answers the telephone and fights with the director who corrects her when she drops props and forgets to hang up the phone or pick up the newspaper or do whatever it is she's supposed to do with the sardines. When she's out of the room, Garry, a real estate agent, comes in with a girlfriend, Brooke (Rebecca Cort), with hanky-panky in mind. Somehow Brooke loses her dress and spends most of the play running around in her lingerie and striking ridiculous "sexy" poses -- intentional over acting at its absolute finest. Unfortunately, it is hard to understand some of what she says due to the character's accent and exaggerated histrionics.

In Act Two, the set is turned around, and we see what's happening backstage during opening night at the Grande Theatre. There are signs everywhere warning actors and crew to be quiet when the play is underway, so what we see is mostly pantomime, whispers, and fleeting glances through a window of the actors on stage as they perform for an unseen audience -- while actors, the director, stage hand and stage manager fight with each other backstage. This is one of the most inventive things ever in theater, a stroke of genius by writer Michael Frayn.

Act Three is the final performance of Nothing On, and by then the cast and crew are at each other's throats and have been in and out of each other's beds, and the play within a play is absolutely delightful pandemonium.

NOISES OFF, 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through March 8, $35, $32 senior 60+/military, $20 student/youths younger than 25, $12-$15 rush tickets (half-hour prior to showtime), State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia, 360.786.0151,