By Pat Craig


There is funny, and then there's Center REP's production of Noises Off — which is incredibly funny.

The Walnut Creek Company makes a strong case for its claim that the Michael Frayn farce is the funniest play ever. With the show's excellent cast and Timothy Near's take-no-prisoners direction, the play is, at the very least, one of the most hilarious productions I've ever seen — great praise, considering I've seen perhaps a half-dozen versions of British playwright Michael Frayn's farce.

English farce — like French farce only funny — depends on pinpoint timing, slamming doors and a breakneck pace to produce the kind of laughter that filled the Lesher Center at Tuesday's opening.

The story's a play-within-a-play that covers the life stages of a British touring show, "Nothing On," from its dress rehearsal to a backstage look at the production mid-tour, to the final, near-fatal performance. Each act ups the comedy stakes as the cast members get to know and love, or hate, each other, sometimes whipsawing between the two emotions in a matter of minutes.

In a very real sense, Noises Off is a love letter to the theater by one who knows and loves the not-so-gentle art of boards-trodding, warts and all. Anyone who has spent any time performing will recognize some of the backstage social behaviors that often lead to anti-social behavior — from boozing to the fine art of romantic two-timing — in the theater (and everywhere else, except that in the theater you must always remain quiet back stage and occasionally go on stage and pretend to love someone you loathe).

This leads to wild hilarity throughout Noises Off, and gives some of the area's finest actors a chance to stretch their comedy muscles about as far as they will go. It also affords them a chance to kick theatrical tradition in the slats and take audiences on a wild ride through what appears to be an unabridged collection of the finest cast-party stories from two continents.

The cast is an absolute delight from top to bottom, beginning with Center REP's artistic director, Michael Butler, who plays Lloyd Dallas, the director, as a ladies' man and

scoundrel who's a charming but oily cad. Sharon Lockwood plays Dotty Otley, a veteran character actress having her last hurrah. She makes the character both wildly funny and a tiny bit sad to create some wonderful moments.

Gabriel Marin plays rental agent Garry Lejeune playing Roger who brings his gal pal, Vicki, played by Brooke Ashton (Brittany Ogle) to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Brent (Mark Anderson Phillips and Jennifer Erdmann) for a bit of mattress testing. Marin has created a lamely insouciant Lejeune who squires the just plain dumb blonde Ogle created for Ashton — and both portrayals are absolute gems. Phillips and Erdman are also wonderful as the confused couple who just want to use their own home for a bit of R&R as they dodge the tax collector.

The show is performed on a beautifully and complex set, by John Iacovelli, that shows the elaborate, door-filled Brent Home, then turns completely around the show how the set looks from behind — a shocking contrast from the plush country digs seen in the first act.

The comedy continues right into the scene changes, but we'll leave it at that. Revealing anything more would ruin a wonderful surprise.


By Kedar K. Adour


When asked if he would be going to the opening of Center Rep’s Noises Off, a somewhat jaded fellow reviewer replied, “No. I’ve seen it too often!” Wow! What a mistake he made and I shall encourage him, nay insist, that he see the show. It is THE best production I have seen with a stellar cast, superb direction, a marvelous set (John Iacovelli), non-stop action and delicious lines bringing continual laughter. The lines are delicious but you will not think so about the multiple plates of sardines that plays an elemental part of the plot.

Since its London premiere in 1982, author Michael Frayn has re-written the play many times and Center Rep’s staging adds fantastic directorial touches one being a hip-hop song and dance between acts two and three, to allow for a set change, that brings down the house. You will not find a more finely tuned ensemble in the Bay Area featuring local greats Michael Butler, Sharon Lockwood, Gabe Marin, Mark Anderson Phillips and others who give memorable performances with special mention of gorgeous Brittany Ogle, playing the sexy blonde bombshell with perfect comic timing spending most of her time on stage in her undies.

Noises Off is a play within a play where marginally competent actors doing a sex farce called Nothing On. There is the pretentious second-rate director Lloyd Dallas (Butler) who is diddling stage manager Poppy (Kendra Lee Oberhauser) and Brooke Ashton (Brittany Ogle). Dotty Otley (Sharon Lockwood) a forgetful aging actress dating jealous actor Garry Lejeune (Gabe Marin) who never can finish a sentence. Frederick Fellows (Mark Anderson Phillips) who fears violence, often gets nose bleeds and questions the meanings of his lines. Sensible, peace maker Belinda Blair (Jennifer Erdmann) who has the hots for Freddy. Over worked stage manager Tim Allgood (Kevin Rolston) and elder alcoholic hard of hearing Selsdon Mowbray (Richard Farrell).

Any good farce must have at least four doors. The Nothing On set has seven doors, two two-story stair cases and a French door window. I did not count them, since I was occupied with laughing, but according to the PR pack there are “. . . one breaking window, 10 trips up and down stairs, 17 false entrances, 46 miscues, 22 double entendres and six regular entendres.” Add to this trousers that fall down, door handles that fall off, props that get misplaced and an increasing animosity building up within the cast of the play within a play and you have utter chaos. Utter chaos under complete control without any cast member missing a cue or line or action.

Lockwood does wonders with her role, making a plate(s) of sardines, a telephone cord and newspaper props for all seasons. Anderson would win an Olympic medal if they gave awards for running up and down stairs with his pants around his ankles. Marin as the ineffectual sex-pot would earn a medal for hobbling with shoe laces tied and taking a pratfall down two flights of stairs. Oberhausen makes the thankless role of stage manager and understudy to Brooke a personal best. Ogle already has her accolade but she deserves another for stealing the stage from the likes of Lockwood, Marin and Phillips. Erdman’s unappreciated role as conciliator is perfect as a foil for the turmoil blowing up around her. Rolston and Farrell do yeoman work getting their share of laughs. Last but not least, Butler who spend much of the first act in the audience directing Nothing On creates a spot on personae with his extraordinary vocal inflection and body language.

I would suggest that you remain in the theater between act one and two to witness the remarkable set change from a front stage set to back stage set. The production team features: Scenic Designer: John Iacovelli, Lighting Designer: Kurt Landisman, Costume Designer: Victoria Hall, Sound Designer: Jeff Mockus, Choreographer: Jennifer Perry, Props Artisan: Seren Helday, Dialect Coach: Cynthia Bassham, Fight Director: Richard Lane, Casting Director: Jennifer Perry, and Stage Manager: Patricia A. Mason*


By Bethany Monk

The Benicia Herald

Center REPertory Company’s Noises Off is a scenic feast coupled with nonstop laugh-out-loud hilarity. Basically, it’s the kind of silly that makes one leave the theater grinning from ear to ear.

See this play, and you’ll laugh like it’s going out of style.

Written by English playwright Michael Frayn, Noises Off is a play within a play, which itself makes for delightful tension — especially for those with theater experience. We get to revisit the backstage drama, the nerve-wracking art of improvisation and even the disaster of a missing cast member at show time.

Take this theatrical madness, multiply it by 100, add a cast with magnificent talent and you’ve got a play too good to miss.

Timothy Near, who directed the Walnut Creek company’s The Mousetrap in 2007 and Doubt in 2008, had a two-fold job in her return to the company. Within Noises Off is a “dreadful sex comedy” called “Nothing On”; not only is Near directing an ensemble of actors, she’s directing an ensemble of actors playing actors, as well as a real-life director playing a director. How’s that for a meta-theatrical experience?

Act One of Noises Off is the dress rehearsal for Nothing On. Sharon Lockwood gives us a powerfully funny introduction to the play within a play. Lockwood, a theater veteran who appeared in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, plays with great charm and fun an actor continually forgetting her cues and lines.

Brittany Ogle, who plays “dumb blonde” Brooke Ashton, is funny — so funny, as I was repeatedly reminded by the gentleman next to me. Ogle’s comedic timing and artful approach to the role of an actor playing a not-so-good actor make for excellent theater.

A set designed to award-winning standards is immeasurably beneficial to a performance. In all the plays I’ve ever seen or been involved with, the Noises Off set surpasses them all. The two-level structure — four doors on the first floor and three on the second with stairs for the actors to go “upstairs” — is so carefully crafted and detailed, it simply looks real. And it is: The doors are real, and the lamps protruding from the walls actually produce light.

The play really gets going in Act Two, when we get to see the “backstage” drama. The two-level set is turned around, so that we get to see the backstage structure of the Nothing On set; the actors are now performing Nothing On, and we get to see what happens when they’re backstage.

Most of this act is silent and the actors must rely on the dance of body language and the pantomime of movement. It’s amazing how much “story” we get from this.

Gabriel Marin, who plays Garry Lejeune, shines with his flawless approach to physical comedy. Especially fun is his “backstage romance” with Lockwood, and their nonstop harassment of each other.

Kevin Rolston, meanwhile, who plays Tim Allgood, could give classes on facial expressions. And Center REP’s real-life artistic director, Michael Butler, plays Lloyd Dallas, the director of Nothing On. Butler has a blast in the role and is equally fun to watch. The ensemble, which includes Jennifer Erdmann (Belinda), Richard Farrell (Selsdon), Kendra Lee Oberhauser (Poppy) and Mark Anderson Phillips (Frederick), works together with ease, all with impeccable comedic timing.

Act Three, which takes place “on stage” later in the performance of Nothing On, keeps the laughter rolling. There is a joyful “scene change” surprise that I loved but that will remain top secret. See the show to find out what I mean.

At one point, the gentleman next to me quietly said, “I wonder how they remember all their lines.” And with British accents. And with cardio-based blocking. And each playing two characters.

Because, I thought to myself, these actors are absolute pros.