‘Noises Off’ on stage at beautiful California Theater

Martinez Gazette Contributor

I have a treat for you as this week’s review allows me to introduce a production that I have always enjoyed. Although I have seen it a number of times, and I have always seen it done well, this production of Noises Off is no exception. In addition, this show is in Pittsburgh in the beautifully restored Art Deco California Theater.

Author Michael Frayn is an English playwright and novelist and translator whose work is often compared to that of Anton Chekhov for his focus on humorous family situations and his searing, endearing insights into society. Frayn is perhaps best known for his long-running and incredibly successful stage farce, Noises Off. Written in 1982 and made into a film in 1992, this wild, madcap play within a play is all about the antics of a theater company that is touring throughout England producing a play entitled “Nothing On”, inside a play entitled “Noises Off”. This is a delightfully funny adult play about the antics of very inept actors who cannot remember their lines nor who they last slept with while on tour in this production. In reality, this brilliantly written and outrageously funny play pokes fun at all of the Victorian age-old suspicions of immorality of people in theater.

What is extremely clever about this play is that the audience gets to see a theatrical production from behind the scenes starting with the final rehearsal, the night before the play is to open in which director Lloyd Dallas (Gregory Brown) battles incessantly with actors who are not yet “off book”, in other words who don’t know their lines thoroughly. The story line of this play within the play takes us to a country home in England where the housekeeper, Mrs. Clacket (Laura Morgan), is caring for this lovely home (a magnificent two-story interior home set designed by Schepers & Jeremy Ward) while her employers Philip and Flavia Brent (played by Daniel Morgan and Julie Rosch-Williams) are purportedly on a vacation in Spain. To Mrs. Clacket’s surprise, a property manager and real estate agent, Roger Tramplemain (Christian Bucey), enters the home with a very attractive young lady, Vicki (Atessa McAleenan-Morrell), assuming that the owners are on vacation and that the housekeeper is absent. It becomes obvious very quickly that Roger and Vicki intend to use this country home’s upstairs bedroom as a place to “conduct business” of a personal nature. Then to everyone’s surprise, the owners of the home, Philip and Flavia, arrive unannounced and caution their housekeeper that they want no one to know that they are back in the country yet. Additional key actors include stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Jillian Lenehan), handyman Tim Allgood ( Brian Moore), and burglar, Selsdon Mowbray (Kevin Burns), who round out this delightfully funny cast.

You get to see this typical English sex farce within a farce, as it is produced over three different time periods, starting with the beginning of the run, mid-run, and final night, in different theater venues across the British provinces. But that is not all you get to see. You even get to see the production from two different perspectives. In the first act, the audience watches the dress rehearsal as they would normally see it. In the second act, the stage has been reversed, and the audience gets to see what happens behind the scenes while the actors are making their entrances and exits during a live performance sometime in the middle of their run. In the third act, the stage is again facing the audience as in act one. But this time, this show within a show is on the final day of its run. Throughout these three acts, the actors struggle with lines, take liberties with their blocking, exhibit jealousies, flirtations, frustrations, and animosities come wildly to the foreground. Scenes are filled with slamming doors, pratfalls, vicious antics, very sexy scenes, all as bloody delightful comedy unfolds.

I probably have seen Noises Off at least in four separate productions ranging from San Francisco professional companies to local community theaters over the years, and I’ve never yet seen a bad production. It is delightful, and this production completely uplifts and heightens my experience in this wonderful community theater production.

This roller coaster romp is artfully directed by Diana Schepers who has carefully selected nine superb, talented actors out of the 46 who sought roles in this production. She admitted that selecting the actors was extremely difficult as there were so many very talented people who applied, from far and wide. Her choice echoes my excitement and belief that there is not one single actor in this play who is not excellent and perfectly suited for their role.

The California Theater is located in old town Pittsburgh, at 351 Railroad Ave., an area that the city of Pittsburgh is upgrading quite successfully, providing great little shops and restaurants for you to enjoy in addition to this exquisite theater venue. Noises Off continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM with matinees on Saturday and Sunday through February 24 at 2 PM. Tickets are quite reasonable at $25 for adults and $20 for seniors and students. This year you can avoid box office lines by purchasing your tickets online (with no service fee) by simply going to www.PittsburgCaliforniaTheatre.com and print out your tickets at home. Or you can call (925) 427-1611 and have your ticket email to you so that you can print it at home. The California theater now scans preprinted tickets on paper and allows tickets on your phone as well.

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