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Chaotic, cheerily absurd Noises Off builds to comedic triumph

Chaotic, cheerily absurd Noises Off builds to comedic triumph

By Allie Lembo

Noises Off, the Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club’s Family Weekend production, may be one of the most difficult comedies ever written. Michael Frayn’s farcical masterpiece is a “play within a play,” chronicling a ragtag company of actors attempting to put on a British farce called Nothing On, a play of slamming doors and traveling sardines.

The production, directed by Assistant Professor of Drama Ben Viccellio with assistance from Emma Miller ’15, rose to the rigorous demands of the play and impressed the audience with its talented cast.

The first act of the play is a meta-theatrical look at a director’s nightmare of a dress rehearsal. It opens with a monologue by middle-aged diva actress Dotty Otley (Rachel Cunningham ’14) who forgets her lines and props while portraying a cockney housemaid. The sleazy but likeable director, Lloyd Dallas, played by Peter Falls ’14, starts a passive-aggressive tirade from the back of the Bolton Theater that continues on throughout the rehearsal. Each character’s entrance was a juicy surprise, including Assistant Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Julia Greer ’15) hurriedly dashing across the stage, and the aging alcoholic thespian Selsdon Mowbray (Elliot Cromer ’15) skulking along the Bolton’s wall. However, the act drew only moderate laughs, due to the palpable frustration of the characters, a late start time and the exhaustion of parents and other visiting family members.

The first intermission featured a 180-degree rotation of the set. Undoubtedly the most ambitious senior project for drama in recent years, Greg Culley’s thesis in scenery design held a commanding presence during the show. The two-sided set incorporated seven doors, a spiral staircase and hid a total of 17 walls in the first and third act, which were interchanged during intermissions. The set functioned wonderfully for the actors and created a spectacular reveal for the audience.

The second act is when Noises Off becomes truly farcical, as Stage Manager Tim (Aaron Lynn ’14) proclaims in awe. A love triangle comes to a head and, combined with Dotty and the bumbling Garry’s (Issa Polstein ’15) nasty breakup, results in backstage turmoil. Noises Off requires the show’s actors to memorize not only the lines of the fictional play Nothing On but also to know this separate script well enough to time their backstage antics to it. With no noise allowed backstage, they pantomimed with escalating fervor. Sight gags included various misinterpreted sexual acts, shoelaces tied together, an axe fight, a full mooning, mimicry and perhaps the best spit take the Bolton has ever seen. Phoebe Rotter ’14 and Elizabeth Gambal ’14 deserve plaudits for performing the entire show in heels, a dangerous feat.

The third act is where the audience’s attention span pays off. Several weeks into its run, Nothing On has deteriorated into a half-baked mess of vicious shenanigans. Seeing the show fall apart couldn’t be more satisfying. The actors, hanging onto the troupe for who-knows-why, try to finish the first act of the production, abandoning any attempt to make the plot of their play make sense.

Backstage politics take center stage, and the sardines and doors mean nothing to the actors who fall down stairs, bleed, are knocked unconscious, get locked in closets and ultimately give up. Cunningham deservedly received a round of applause for her breakdown. Fed up with the company and covered in sardines, Dotty riots on the stage by slamming doors, yelling and banging pots and pans.

As the absurdity of the plot mounted, so too did the audience’s laughter. But there were few moments that affected the entire crowd. As a positive spin on typecasting, Kenyon’s actors were very comfortable in their roles. Rotter seemed at home as the vivacious optimist and Polstein successfully depicted the frustrated ham. Some of the actors, who also included Gambal as Brooke Ashton and Atticus Koontz ’14 as Freddy Fellowes, blended farce into their primary characters, when a more restrained approach may have made their play-within-a-play roles pop even more. But the major faults of the show belong to Frayn, who never resolves the second act’s cliffhanger and leaves characters out of most of the conflict in the third and most exciting act.

Regardless, the buzzing energy of the strong ensemble cast did justice to this extravagant comedy. In a play that was almost as exhausting for the viewers as it was for this talented crop of upperclassmen, Noises Off delivered an unforgettable and immensely entertaining night of organized chaos.

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