Tuesday, July 17, 2012

NOISES OFF • Ozark Actors Theatre

Woo-hoo, road trip!

I'd never been to Ozark Actors Theatre, now celebrating its 25th anniversary season, and I'm glad I made the trip.  They're located in Rolla Missouri, just about an hour and a half away from St. Louis city.  The Cedar Street Playhouse, originally a church, is a nice little theatre space with about 170 seats and a great brew house restaurant a few blocks away, but I'll get to that later.

Michael Frayn's Noises Off had its origins when he realized that watching a play from backstage could be way more entertaining than watching it as an audience member.  The resulting one-act play, Exits, was later expanded into the three-act Noises Off, a play that many consider to be the cleverest farce of the twentieth century.  The title takes its name from a stage direction indicating sounds made offstage intended for the ears of the audience.  <-- I love that...

Anyhoo, the action begins with the dress rehearsal of this play within the play called Nothing On.  Nothing On is a sex comedy set in an old English mill, converted into a home, and here we meet the real estate agent for the house, Roger (Gregory Cuellar) and his "assistant" Vicki (Kristin Mcguire).  They have dropped in on the property intending to make good use of the bedroom, if you know what I mean.  The owners of the house, a pair of tax-evaders, Phillip (Blane Pressler) and Flavia (Sarah Cannon), pay an unexpected visit from Spain while the housekeeper, Mrs. Clackett (Lavonne Byers), tries to keep up with the goings on.  There's also a burglar who decides to come calling hoping to make off with some valuable loot.  During the course of the play, much use is made of many doors.  It's farce, right?  This play within the play is clearly in need of a few more rehearsals, and the play's director, Lloyd (Bryan Dobson), fitfully tries to get his mediocre cast to pull it together all while lines are dropped, cues are missed and blocking is botched, along with a brewing love-triangle, two additional members of the cast dating, and an elderly cast member, Selsdon (Gordon Fox), who likes to get his drink on and hides bottles backstage.  Fun right?

Gregory Cuellar (Garry) and Kristin McGuire (Brooke).
Photo credit: Bob Phelan
It was pretty fun, to tell you the truth, although it gets off to a bit of a slow start.  Act two kicks it up when we see what kind of shape the play is in about a month into its run.  The set is rotated around and we get to essentially eavesdrop on that same first act from backstage this time.  While relationships have deepened and misunderstood body language wreaks all sorts of havoc, this "real life" cast pulls off what I imagine must be an incredibly challenging act -- very little dialogue with tons of physicality.  We also get to see more of the play's over-worked stage manager Timothy (Michael Detmer), and the sensitive assistant stage manager Poppy (Bess Moynihan).

In the third act Nothing On is close to the end of its run, and the cast is just about ready to be done.  Tension between them has reached a fever pitch, and the attempt to cover mistakes ends up shining more light on this horribly amusing performance.

Blane Pressler (Frederick)
and Sarah Cannon (Belinda).
Photo credit: Bob Phelan
While the cast members of Nothing On kinda suck, under Jason Cannon's direction, the cast of Noises Off is excellent.  Lavonne Byers has great comic timing onstage and "off" as Dotty (Mrs. Clackett in Nothing On).  Blane Pressler is hilarious as Frederick (Philip), prone to nosebleeds and easily flustered.  Sarah Cannon also nails the timing as the sugary sweet Belinda (Flavia), the more reliable one of the group, and Gregory Cuellar's delivery as Garry (Roger), a stammering actor who ends most of his sentences with, "you know", provided a lot of laughs.  Good work also from Bryan Dobson as Lloyd, the frustrated director, Kristin Mcguire as the ingénue, Brooke/Vicki, Michael Detmer as Timothy, Bess Moynihan as Poppy and Gordon Fox as Selsdon/Burglar.  A few were pretty consistent with the British dialect, for the most part, considering all of the physical comedy going on.  Kevin Shaw's intricate set is perfect and Michael Sullivan's lighting design along with smart costumes by Jane Sullivan and Cris Abbott's sound design all compliment the play very nicely.
Sarah Cannon (Belinda), Gregory Cuellar (Garry),
Blane Pressler (Frederick), Lavonne Byers (Dottie),
Gordon Fox (Selsdon) and Kristin McGuire (Brooke).
Photo credit: Bob Phelan
So, if you're up for a little travelin', this show is worth the trip.  Oh, and that brew house -- there's a great place to eat near the theatre -- Public House Brewing Company.  Great turkey sandwiches and a nice selection of beers.  Noises Off is playing until the 22nd.  Check it out!
Written by Michael Frayn
Directed by Jason Cannon
The Cedar Street Playhouse, 701 North Cedar, Rolla MO, 65401
through July 22 | tickets: $12 - $20
Performances Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 2 & 8pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
Bryan Dobson* (Lloyd Dallas), Lavonne Byers (Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clackett), Gregory Cuellar (Garry Lejeune/Roger), Blane Pressler (Frederick Fellows/Philip), Sarah Cannon (Belinda Blair/Flavia), Bess Moynihan (Poppy Norton-Taylor), Gordon Fox (Selsdon Mowbray/Burglar), Michael Detmer (Timothy Allgood) and Kristin Mcguire (Brooke Ashton/Vicki).
* Member Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States
Scenic design by Kevin Shaw; costume design by Jane Sullivan; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; sound design by Cris Abbott; stage manager, Jim Welch*.

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