"Noises Off“ is dedicated to the proposition that nothing theatrical is too sacred to satirize. It’s silly, it’s sassy and more than a little bit raunchy, and it’s a whirlwind of fun.
Michael Frayn’s 1980s farce within a farce is as fond of the people who make theater happen as shows such as ”A Chorus Line“ and ”Curtains,“ but if those other shows are dripping with sentiment, ”Noises Off“ trips over itself to deliver belly laughs.
The production, now at Pittsburgh Public Theater, deftly directed by Don Stephenson, pushes the company to pinpoint comic timing and dangerously funny pratfalls. The over-the-top humor leans toward the raunchy or the obvious, Mel Brooks-style. As in a Brooks comedy, Mr. Frayn takes a seemingly familiar setting — a lower-tier touring company putting on a show — and puts it through a Mixmaster of extremes.
The antics of a troupe of British actors — ranging from inept to inebriated — spill onto the stage in three phases, beginning with the Act I rehearsal fiasco for the awful play ”Nothing On.“ In Act II, things go from worse to catastrophic, putting the Pittsburgh Public Theater turntable stage to good use. Act II is split into two sidesplitting scenes: a backstage pantomime of the cast and crew putting on the show while in various states of disarray, followed by the disastrous results that the audience at the matinee is seeing.
It’s an exhausting pace for the actors, who are rewarded with big laughs as befits the pratfalls, funny business and thoroughly ridiculous behavior.
Cajoling director Lloyd Dallas wants only to be done with this touring British sex farce and step into a prestige production of “Richard III.” He’s got some hanky-panky going on, but he also wants some precision “Hokey Pokey” from his actors: “That's what it's all about, doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That's farce,” he says.
Sardines, plated and otherwise, and doors that open, slam or don’t do as they are bidden are among the key elements of “Noises Off.” They, and every element in the agile two-tier, two-sided set by Michael Schweikardt, help the game cast go for the funny at every turn.
Michael MacCauley, an accomplished actor and the artistic director of Ensemble Theatre Company in Asheville, N.C., plays Lloyd at a simmer brewing toward a boiling point, and his British accent is among the best in a talented company. He manages to be both endearing and smarmy as the leader of the ragtag cast and crew and is among a slew of welcome newcomers to the Public stage.
Noah Plomgren goes loudly from genial Garry to jealous Garry in the “Nothing On” leading man role and is paired with human Barbie and funny lady Laura Woyasz, seen recently on Broadway as “Wicked’s” Glinda and seen mostly in her underwear in the Public’s “Noises Off.” The other onstage couple is Garrett Long as peacemaker and nurturer Belinda and Preston Dyar as deceptively dapper Freddy. Other new faces are Ralph Redpath as notorious drunk Selsdon and Scott Cote as put-upon stage manager Tim.
The local contingent in the cast comprises the great Helena Ruoti as Dotty, an uproarious role played by Dorothy Loudon and then Patti LuPone on Broadway and one that Andrea Martin will tackle there next year. Karen Baum, a frequent player for PICT Classic Theatre, is perfect as seeming doormat Poppy, the director’s assistant.
While the sardines and doors fly, the stairs and balcony are also to put to great and edge-of-seat use, particularly by Mr. Plomgren, who flings his body around in seemingly dangerous ways. In contrast, Ms. Woyasz’s wooden moves are a scream.
There are plenty of guffaws and screams to go around in the Public’s “Noises Off” thrill ride. It may be the company’s season ender, but for now, let the sardines and doors fly, and the fun and games begin.