“Noises Off” has been a comedy staple since it scored a best play Tony nomination in 1984, and author Michael Frayn’s madcap tale about mounting a show retains its convoluted cleverness. In the current Pasadena Playhouse version, however, the noise from slamming doors onstage is often louder than the noise of spectators laughing, a problem caused by uncertain pacing and inconsistent comic turns. Things pick up in act two, when director Seyd and his cast find the right farcical rhythm.
Frayn pokes fun at a troubled production of a sex farce, “Nothing On,” a rehearsal of which is staged in act one, backstage in act two, and finally during a disastrous performance in act three. The first actor we meet is Dotty (Jane Carr), who’s playing a harassed maid and can’t remember a simple piece of business about the placement of sardines. Her ineptitude drives director Lloyd (Adrian Neil) apoplectic. First act also introduces the other actors getting ready for their “Nothing On” tour: inarticulate Garry (Ben Livingston), buxom blonde Brooke (Jamie Day), Frederick (Dan Hiatt) and Belinda (Maura Vincent).
For those who have experienced the chaos of an evolving show, this section will trigger shocks of recognition, and Jeff Mockus’ sound, a vital ingredient, vibrantly emphasizes banging doors and breaking windows. John Iacovelli’s two-level set is ideal, providing multiple exits and entrances for the vanishing and reappearing actors, whether “onstage” or “backstage.” But Neil’s interpretation of Lloyd isn’t cutting or eccentric enough as the directorial center of the storm, and his volley of accusations against a blundering troupe express exasperation without the needed edge.
He improves dramatically “backstage” in act two, as a womanizer flitting between Brooke and pregnant stage manager Poppy (Ali Taylor). All the actors spring to life after the script highlights their bitter offstage rivalries.
Dan Hiatt is an accomplished farceur, blending sophistication with baggy-pants vaudevillian lunacy. His Frederick is particularly funny when reacting to the slightest violence with nosebleeds. And while her character is less clearly drawn than the others, Maura Vincent has style to spare and sports a droll delivery that shines when the director utters an inane direction and she says, “Oh, God, Lloyd, you’re so deep!”
Dithering and stumbling don’t bring out the best in Livingston. It takes the later addition of anger, when Garry suspects Dotty of carrying on with Frederick, to lift his flair for extravagant clowning to the surface. Carr, mildly amusing on the innumerable sardine jokes, is hilarious when she unties Livingston’s shoelaces and causes him to trip and then tumble down a flight of stairs.
Liam Vincent offers gawky charm as a stagehand who mistakenly gives the director’s flowers to the wrong mistress, and Ali Taylor expertly executes a scene-stealing bit where she repeatedly announces the starting time of the show and is forced to revise her bulletins. Edward Sarafian is well cast as a heavy-drinking, hard-of-hearing old trouper.
Show’s climax lacks punch, but by then, the sight of wielded axes, cactus quills being pulled from rear ends and falling trousers have largely compensated for earlier weaknesses.