There are a lot of different things you can expect when you go to the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, but you would never expect this.
A ballet. Right on the stage of the Quadracci Powerhouse. And with "Noises Off," a farce written by Michael Frayn and directed by KJ Sanchez, the Rep has staged a show that has everything that a great ballet has, except the music.
First, you need the actors/dancers. They must know their steps. They must be able to dance/act alone and dance/act with their partners. You need wonderful soaring scenery that helps to tell the story. You need a story that will hold your interest. You need to know what it is you want out of your audience.
And, like any great ballet, you need to ask a lot of Â your actors/dancers, and they need to have wonderous physical strength and impeccable timing. I mean down to the last nanosecond. If you're off in a ballet, you may as well drop your partner. If you were off in this show, the jokes, one-liner and brilliant physical comedy could fall flat, as if the audience had gone deaf.
There are several things that you need for a great farce. You need doors â€“ the more the better â€“ and they must be able to be slammed. You need sex, both pretty overt and of the double entendre variety. You need props that go boom in the night and allow actors to fall, juggle, drop and steal. You need love affairs, triangles, quadrangles, almost any permutation of angles. You need a sense of sympathy for the fools who are caught in the maelstrom of farcical behavior and circumstance.
"Noises Off" has all of that and more. Much more.
The conceit of the play is simple: A downtrodden second or third level theater troupe is producing a play called "Nothing On." There are three distinct performances of the play, one in a final dress rehearsal, one performance seen from the back of the stage and finally one near the end of their national tour when all semblance of a play has been lost to chaos.
The story in any great farce â€“ and this may well be one of the greatest and funniest ever written â€“ is merely a framework around which the players conduct their hijinks. And so, let us look at each of the nine players who created such merriment.
Veteran Rep actor and director Laura Gordon plays Dotty Otley, a slightly middle-aged actress who makes one wonder whether the words of the playwright will ever actually come out of her mouth. As the housekeeper in the play, she is the stewardess of the joke about the sardines, the joke that winds through this production from start to finish. Gordon, a wonder in countless dramas, proves that she is certainly no one-trick pony. Her comedic talents are on full and glorious display. Â
Joe Dempsey plays Lloyd Dallas, the director. His exhausted "had my fill of all of you" style throughout the rehearsal is familiar to anyone who has ever had to work with a group of incompetents. Dempsey is also a familiar libertine, dallying with both the show's bimbo and the stage manager. His descent from frustrated theatrical boss to crazed member of this melange of misfits is an absolute wonder.
Garry Lejeune, the male romantic lead, is the place for Rep associate Gerard Neugent to let loose. There is no mugging or physical challenge that seems beyond Neugent. Itâ€™s hard to lock onto one moment for Neugent because his rapid chasing throughout the setting is so frantic that you lose your breath watching him.
Many people have remarked about the wonder of his pratfalls, including a fall from floor two to floor one. But his quiet moment when he realizes that his plate of sardines has mysteriously disappeared is priceless and draws some of the biggest laughs. And his long segment with the laces of his shoes tied together should be mandatory watching for any actor wanting to test his or her physical chops.
Kelley Faulkner plays Brooke Ashton, the cast bimbo. Sheâ€™s incredibly sexy, running around in her "smalls" which is the phrase Dotty uses for underwear. She has an incredible range, from scorned playmate to coy seductress. But her continual loss of a contact lens, spawning continual searches, brings laughter that begins as a twitter and soon climbs into the raucous range.
Moving on to Aaron Christensen, who plays empty headed star Frederick Fellowes. Christensen is a rival for the king of physical comedy worn by Neugent. His empty-headedness in the early going draws sympathetic laughter. But later, when his pants fall to his ankles and his lengthy run around the set and a climb up the stairs on his knees, you could see audience members wiping tears from their eyes.
Rep veteran Deborah Staples plays the closest to a normal person in the play, an actor who is half of the couple with Christensen. She provides a moral center, if you will, early in the going. But as the weeks and months of the play run on, she begins to veer off center and into the heady, heavily bewildered air of the rest of the cast. Â Staples is absolutely stunning, and has some of the best and most economical sense of movement Iâ€™ve seen in any actor. Every movement has a reason in a Staples performance.
Joe Boersma plays Tim Allgood, the gofer of the play. Part stage manager and part "keep the director happy," he brings a fresh face to this collection of the aged, infirm and the unaware.
Jonathan Gillard Daly brings the besotted Seldson Mowbray to life, where his every moment of early dementia are so funny that you wait for whatâ€™s coming next, holding your breath so that youâ€™ll be able to laugh at full force. When Daly, who plays a thief, shuffles proudly out of a water closet holding up a piece of a toilet, and soddenly shouts, "The ballcock my man, itâ€™s the ballcock," you can hardly hear yourself think or laugh because of the roars from the audience. Daly delivers every role he plays without ever offering up disappointment.
And finally, that brings us to Sara Zientek. She is a local girl and a member of the Repâ€™s acting intern company. She plays the stage manager and the other lover of the director. She is playing with a real powerhouse of acting talent in this production. But she more than holds her own; she sparkles. Before our very eyes, she is growing from a talented girl into a formidable woman, fully capable of standing with the very best in the city and standing just as tall as they do.
"Noises Off" runs through Dec. 22. Information and tickets can be obtained at milwaukeerep.com.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published May 27, 2016
There is something about live theater that provides room for the little things in life, things that don't come with trumpets but with little bells, things that don't move mountains but may move the soul.
Published May 26, 2016
Charlie Sykes has long been a star of conservative politics, having built a kind of cottage industry mixing radio, television, books and his own peculiar brand of journalism. He may now be part of "The Mainstream Media."
Published May 26, 2016
A kind of social media pandemonium got underway Wednesday when Viswa Subbaraman announced he was resigning as the artistic director at Skylight Music Theatre. The board will take its time, however, finding a replacement.
Published May 25, 2016
No matter how it gets spun, Milwaukee's performing arts community took a severe hit Wednesday when Viswa Subbaraman announced he was leaving his post as artistic director of the Skylight Music Theatre.
Published May 24, 2016
The Wisconsin theater season generally begins in early summer when The American Players Theatre opens in Spring Green, shortly after the previous Milwaukee season comes to an end in spring. The 2015-16 season is now over and it's time for Dave Begel's annual list of the best plays of the season.
Published May 21, 2016
Skylight's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" delivered a rollicking and laugh-filled first act. As for the second act? Unfortunately, that's where the Skylight's season finale ran out of gas.
Published May 20, 2016
There are rare moments in the life of an arts organization when something happens that is a stamp of its style and the core belief that makes it who it is. The Milwaukee Ballet unfurled a moment just like that Thursday night with "Alice (in wonderland)."
Published May 19, 2016
Demond Means, a skilled and accomplished educator, is a guy who deserves some sympathy for being caught between a rock and a hard place as he tries to move the rock. He faces tough opponents in reform efforts.
Published May 18, 2016
Somebody somewhere needs to sit me down in a corner and explain why the City of Milwaukee needs a new "People's flag" to replace the one we've had for over 60 years.
Published May 17, 2016
Septime Webre is about to step down after 17 years as artistic director of the prestigious Washington Ballet. Before then, however, he is in Milwaukee to direct his "Alice (in wonderland)" with the Milwaukee Ballet.