Mid-summer madness prevails at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey with a revival of Michael Frayn’s giddy 1982 farce “Noises Off,” which remains one of the funniest plays of the past half-century. The play-within-a-play concerns the chaotic rehearsals of a feuding troupe of traveling performers; director Paul Mullins has harnessed his clownish players into a three-act comedy that’s as knee-slapping as a three-ring circus.
The actors display uncommonly broad strokes of physical energy, knockabout slapstick humor and impeccable split-second timing.
As a much-harassed housekeeper who cannot seem to keep track of a plate of sardines, Harriet Harris wisely avoids exaggerated mugging, her studied downstage stares nicely offering an all-consuming summing up of confusion and despair. The lovely Laila Robins, whose tragic ladies on the Jersey stage have included Lady Macbeth and Blanche DuBois, offers a grand, sweeping turn as the haughty actress, Belinda Blair. And the harried, philandering director is played by Andrew Weems, who has mastered the art of the slow burn.
Certainly no actor has fallen down a full flight of stairs with such harrowing accuracy as Scott Barrow does as the insipid Garry Lejeune. His girlfriend, Brooke Ashton, who flits about in her undies and keeps losing her contact lens, is keenly defined by bombshell Katie Fabel. Matt Bradford Sullivan brings a touch of comic grandeur to the role of the hapless Frederick Fellowes, who nurses a chronic bloody nose, hops about with his trousers around his ankles and is apparently unsure of an actor’s motivation.
Edmond Genest acts the role of a besotted veteran actor with a comedic Shakespearean thrust, hiding his precious booze in every nook and cranny. The actor defines senility with doddering dignity.
Charlie Calvert’s set offers a double-tier view of a country house that has enough stairs and doors to create an active arena for bedlam, while the real panic is displayed in the second act, seen from backstage, where the actors engage in full battle, armed with a lethal axe and a bristling cactus plant. Not since the fields of Agincourt have you seen such well-aimed carnage.