If a farce needs plenty of doors to slam, Michael Frayn's "Noises Off" is a door-slamming wonder. The energetic Silhouette Stages production rises to the architectural challenge with a two-level domestic set containing seven doors that sure get a lot of use.
Characters also come and go through a window, as well as through a curtain over an entrance to the attic. And one of the characters is in the auditorium with us and then climbs a few steps to get up on stage, so you feel like this set can be entered from just about anywhere.
That stage-ascending character has a valid reason for such behavior, because "Noises Off" is a play that's about putting on a play. Based on what we see of it, the play-within-a-play, titled "Nothing On," is a dreadful farce about naughty people misbehaving in a country house.
Frayn's 1982 comedy, which currently is enjoying a much-praised revival in New York, certainly makes the most of its melodramatic premise.
It's really hilarious to watch the actor-characters trying to remember their lines and where to move on stage as they rehearse just before embarking on a provincial British tour. To put it mildly, things do not look promising.
That's why the director, Lloyd Dallas (Gary Reichard), nervously goes from making snarky off-stage comments to dashing up on stage to complain to his actors at closer quarters.
He definitely has his work cut out for him. Just consider how Dallas has to reason with one of the supporting actors, Dotty Otley (Maribeth Vogel), who portrays a maid in "Nothing On." Otley cannever remember where to place a tray of sardines, and she isn't any better when it comes to coordinating her timing for when to pick up a ringing telephone.
Then there is an actor, Selsdon Mowbray (Don Patterson), who likes to drink booze and disappear just when his character should be appearing on stage.
"Noises Off" gets considerable comic mileage out of such running gags as the misplaced tray of sardines and the missing-in-action actor. As the frazzled director Dallas says: "That's what it's all about: doors and sardines." Alas, whatever can go wrong with the doors and sardines in "Nothing On" repeatedly goes wrong.
The three Silhouette Stages actors playing those three actor-characters have a lot of fun indulging this play's supreme sense of silliness. There's yet more fun to be had from the rest of the Silhouette Stages cast, playing over-the-top actors and flustered members of the stage crew whose behind-the-scenes confrontations more than match what the on-stage characters are up to.
Under these theater-about-theater circumstances, it seems apt to list in playbill fashion the remaining actor-characters followed by the names of the Silhouette Stages actors playing them: Gary Lejeune (Ryan Reichard), Brooke Ashton (Allie Dreskin), Poppy Norton-Taylor (Parker Bailey Steven), Frederick Fellowes (Jeff Dunne), Belinda Blair (Julie Press) and Tim Allgood (Adam Abruzzo).
These first-rate Silhouette Stages actors really get into the frantic proceedings as a second-rate British acting troupe for whom disaster always seems about to arrive with the next stage entrance. Although there are scenes in which the Silhouette Stages cast needs a snappier pace, these actors generally have smart comic timing in this production directed by Conni Ross.
Of course, the real star of any production of "Noises Off" is the set construction. When the first act opens, we see that two-level domestic set just as a provincial British theater audience would; however, the second act opens with the set completely turned around, meaning that we see how it would look from backstage. Having seen "Nothing On" in rehearsal, we are so familiar with its production-crippling problems that we're now primed to see them from a backstage perspective.
That set-flipping change is achieved by the hard-working Silhouette Stages production crew during intermission. Even though an additional set change during the intermissionless interval prior to the third act frankly takes longer than it should, theentire production team deserves great credit for all that muscle-testing labor.
It's all in the service of a very funny play. Much of the noise you hear is your own laughter.
"Noises Off" continues through March 20 at Silhouette Stages, in the Slayton House Theater at 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. For ticket info, call 410-637-5289 or go to www.silhouettestages.com.