Hats off to ‘Noises Off!’
Something special made its way onto the stage of the Shapiro Campus Center Theater over the weekend: The Undergraduate Theater Collective’s production of Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off.” Directed by Elana Kellner ’19, the play within a play earns its distinction by virtue of its deliberate chaos. And while chaos is seldom a play’s best friend, Kellner embraces it, and appropriates it to the production’s advantage. Kellner is a certifiable genius; she had the foresight to integrate the foibles of a rushed production process — common for the tight-budgeted UTC — into her show. “Noises Off,” a behind-the-scenes look at a troubled production called “Nothing’s On,” exposes the makings of a trainwreck. With that in mind, Kellner knew that she could take risks because if something went wrong during a performance, the audience would not necessarily know it. The gamble paid off royally — “Noises Off” is the most technically complex UTC show in recent memory.
The innovative ambition of this production appears in many forms. When the curtain rises, the first outstanding aspect of the show is revealed: jaw-dropping set design by Molly Rocca ’20. The structure is as full of character as it is immense. It is two stories high, uncommon in a student-run production. Beyond that, it is fully disassembled and reassembled twice during the show. Essentially, Rocca and their carpentry team built the front of a house. The set is nearly 20 feet tall, and occupies the width of the stage.
Then, there are the doors: That is where the second huge success of the production, Kellner’s direction, really shines. She had to coordinate blocking for the nine-person cast, utilizing the show’s many unconventionally placed entrances, exits and moving parts. To call it blocking is a bit of an understatement — it is more like choreography. The constant movement and flow in the play is more of an intricate dance. What is more, “Noises Off” is already dialogue-heavy, making it a challenge to perform. Yet the entire cast, another one of the show’s strengths, was up to the task, flawlessly taking on the intricate blocking while delivering their lines with bravura. The results are simultaneously stunning and hilarious.
“Noises Off” is a true ensemble piece, and the actors bolster each other’s performances while also imbuing the characters with their individual comedic stylings. Ben Greene ’21 is great as Lloyd, the disgruntled director of “Nothing’s On,” expertly conveying the frustrations of a troubled artist. Batsheva Moskowitz ’22 demonstrates strong restraint without sacrificing the comedy of her character — Kim, the stage manager. Much of her performance is simply reacting to the rest of the cast, which she does effectively. Leanna Ugent ’22 as Poppy is deliciously overdramatic, a wonderful foil to Moskowitz’s Kim. Rounding out the cast are the actors playing actors: Eli Esrig ’19, Jason Frank ’22, Adina Jacobson ’20, Blake Rosen ’21, Sophie Lee ’21 and Evan Shapiro ’22. Esrig brings a whimsical flare as Garry, while Shapiro is charming as the timid Freddy. Lee plays the dumb-as-a-doorbell Brooke to hilarious effect, while Jacobson and Rosen shine as Belinda and Dotty, respectively. Finally, there is the show’s breakout star, Frank, whose over-the-top, uproarious performance as the alcoholic Selsdon steals the show. The moment he makes his entrance — breaking through a window, slurring his lines with a captivating self awareness — he has you hoping he will never leave the stage. And when he does exit, his performance provokes prayers for his return.
The exceptional aspect of “Noises Off” is its light-heartedness. The cast and crew just wanted to give the audience a good time and make them laugh. When they go into a second intermission, guised as a technical difficulty, they pull up audience members for an impromptu karaoke dance party.This is the impression of somebody who attended opening night, which was performed with the ease of a show several performances into its run. Kudos, indeed.