Noises Off is a play within a play, a farce within a farce, a runaway comic hit that spent four years drawing adoring crowds in the London theater. Scripted by prolific author/playwright Michael Frayn (1999 Booker Prize nominee for his novel Headlong), Noises Off borrows the conventions of the traditional sex farce -- secret affairs, girls in underwear, even pants around ankles -- then stands them on their head by allowing the audience a peek behind the stage where the real sex farce resides. The play also presents considerable challenges of physicality and comic timing.
TheatreWorks' production, now showing at the shiny new Bon Vivant Theater, features a knockout revolving set, crisp timing and quite possibly the best ensemble cast assembled in Colorado Springs in years.
A British comedy requires British accents -- one of those incidentals that puts fear in the hearts of critics. Happily, the cast assembled by director Kelly Walters -- in which he also plays a part -- is more than up to the task. Bad, overdone accents can ruin the best executed plays, and here they become barely noticeable after the first five minutes. Whew.
Act 1 depicts a rehearsal of Nothing On, a comic play soon to hit the road; Act 2 gives a backstage view of the traveling cast and crew; and Act 3 shows the disastrous final performance. Mark Hennessy is appropriately fussy as the frustrated director, biding his time with Nothing On while longing for more serious work.
Ashley Crockett is simply wonderful as Dottie Ottley, the actress who plays Mrs. Clackett, the cockney housekeeper in Nothing On. Crockett's stature, facial expressions, quickness and bold delivery are perfect for this kind of material. She leads an equally capable and compelling cast, including director Walters and Sarah Martorella as Garry LeJeune and Brooke Ashton, a couple out for an afternoon tryst in the English manor house where the play is set. Walters' pratfalls, especially a roll down the stairs and a scene where his feet are tied together, are quick, graceful and adept. Martorella is breathy and gorgeous as the clichd bubble-headed blonde.
Brian Thompson and Jane Fromme round out the lead players as Belinda Blair and Frederick Fellowes, the second couple, alternating romantic hijinks and bedroom overtures with Garry and Brooke. Both actors bring heart and soul to their roles, providing some real humanity in the midst of comic chaos.
But the stars of Noises Off must share kudos with set designer Nancy Hankin and master carpenter Steve Brummitt who have created a marvel of a revolving set. The second act, in particular, uses the set as a central character in the play -- a series of slamming doors through which the actors revolve night after night, playing their characters on one side of the faade and themselves on the other.
Ultimately, this production of Noises Off works because of the professionalism of the actors. Sitting in the theater, I was a little uncomfortable realizing that this was a local production of a very physically demanding comedy. I should have had more faith. This cast moved in perfect balletic synchrony, mastering every carefully choreographed scene, revving up the pace at the right moments, and landing with a splat just as the audience wound up for one more big laugh.
It's a delightful evening of theater -- energetic, lighthearted and silly, but masterfully done.
TheatreWorks' Bon Vivant Theater 3955 Cragwood Drive (off of Austin Bluffs, just west of Union)
Through Dec. 7, Thurs. and Fri., 7:30 p.m., Sat., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sun., 4 p.m.
$18-$20, reservations recommended
Call 262-3232 or visit www.uccstheatreworks.com.