“The show must go on” in Costa Mesa Playhouse’s rendition of the classic farce
by Libby Nicolay
We are laughter-deprived. Indeed, everybody could use a good laugh right now. There may be nothing more perfect for us right now than what the New York Post called the ”funniest farce ever written." Now is the time for Michael Frayn’s epic comedy “Noises Off’, on stage July 8-31 at Costa Mesa Playhouse and directed by Kathy Paladino.
This ingenious play-within-a-play was written by celebrated British playwright Frayn, premiering first in London in 1982 before quickly making its way to Broadway. Ever since then, the show has become a right of passage for theatre companies far and wide and was revived on Broadway in 2001 – featuring Patti LuPone and Peter Gallagher – to Tony Award-winning acclaim.
The show features a less-than-professional acting troupe as they rehearse and perform a tired sex comedy called “Nothing On.” The three acts follow three different performances from across the run of the play, showing the unfolding disaster on stage as well as the antics that ensue behind the curtain. Besides the absurd content of “Nothing On,” the cast of the show-within-the-show are hilariously ill-prepared and must also deal with what can often be a legitimate challenge amidst castmates: tolerating one another offstage.
“Noises Off” is notoriously tricky to stage, but Paladino is more than ready to take on the show. “It was just such a challenge for me,” she explained. “I love having a challenge.”
A farcical style like this means lots of slapstick comedy, highly exaggerated circumstances, and over-the-top absurdity. In order to pull this off, a high level of technicality is required from everyone involved, and it’s made evident in everything from the show’s fast-paced choreography and comedic timing to props and set design. In “Noises Off,” this well-oiled machine only demands more as the play progresses and its tomfoolery accelerates.
Paladino noted the intricacies of the infamous Act Two, where we see the play “from behind” and watch all the backstage antics and complications happening mid-performance. Paladino praised David Rodriguez, her assistant director (“but more like co-director”) who excels at physical comedy and helped choreograph many of the difficult Act 2 scenes that involve tricky blocking and pantomime.
With such physical comedy, this show typically relies on an intricate set that will allow for such pandemonium with its two plays happening at once. However, Costa Mesa Playhouse’s smaller stage will bring about a more intimate staging of the show. “It’s such a classically funny show and I knew the actors really wanted to do it,” she said. “Trying to manage the set on our small stage was challenging but I thought it would be fun.”
When asked how the classic farce might resonate with audiences now, Paladino highlighted the resiliency of a show whose sex jokes may start to be seen by some as antiquated. Luckily, she agreed that the farcical style allows its humor and sheer ridiculousness to transcend all the rest. She noted that, behind all the antics, there’s an enduring quality that comes from seeing such a display of flaws and mishaps. “When you see these actors on stage and you see them make mistakes and you see them be human, it does remind us that we are human and we all do make mistakes,” says Paladino. “Sets fall down and we keep going.”
Paladino likens “Noises Off” to the kind of show which “you can see over and over again and never get tired of.” It’s true, the show has long been celebrated for good reason. Through its elaborate chaos and larger-than-life characters, we can be constantly reminded that the show really does go on. We keep going.
I think it’s no coincidence that the last Tony-winning Broadway revival of this show premiered back in November 2001, bringing laughter to an America that was scared and grieving in the wake of tragedy. Right now just might be the best time to channel that hope and find some escape in the hilarity of “Noises Off.”
Libby Nicolay is a writer, literary manager, and local theater enthusiast working in the entertainment industry throughout Orange County.
Location: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 661 Hamilton St, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Run dates/curtain times: July 8-31, 2022; Fri/Sat 8 p.m. and Sun 2 p.m.; Special Pay-What-You-Will performance on Thu, July 21 at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $22 general; $20 seniors and students
Suitability: Contains adult language and situations
Information: (949) 650-5269, costamesaplayhouse.com