The second you take your seat at Cygnet Theatre Company's Noises Off, you can pretty much cop a clue about the high farce around the corner. First of all, you're face to face with seven doors over two levels, all ripe for the slamming and malfunctioning; there are eight if you count a window that's used as an entrance. And that doesn't include the two on either side of the stage in the second act, which brings the total to 10. Doors are a traditional part of this genre because so many crazy situations unfold behind them—and since there are more doors than actors here, it's a cinch the breakneck slapstick and palsy will follow.
That's part of the problem with this show. It's a spoof about mounting a play that features a sixth-rate cast and a hopelessly self-righteous director; everybody's sore spots, rivalries and lack of talent flood the backstage area at such biblical levels that they take on lives of their own, and soon, their connection with the bomb of a piece is almost lost. But make no mistake: The fact that nobody breaks an arm or a leg or an ass is likely this show's greatest achievement, and it's one to behold. If you take a little World War III with your farce, Noises Off is likely one of the better pieces you'll have seen in quite a while.
In fact, cranky Dotty Otley (Rosina Reynolds) wants you to come, and how. She's partially bankrolling Nothing On, the dogflop excuse for a light British comedy she and the rest of these dreadful rep actors are touring (they can't even handle a simple stage direction involving plates of sardines). With only hours to go till opening in a new town, the thing still looks like shit, and Dotty's return on her money is at risk. From there, the action backstage is exponentially more interesting than the play—everything from Dotty's liaison with director Lloyd Dallas (Albert Dayan) to techie Tim Allgood's (Jason Connors) supreme dedication to this piece of crap plays out wordlessly and without surcease. The staff's onstage frustration yields to blind dementia, and the audience is none the wiser. How the tartly Brooke Ashton (Jessica John) doesn't break her nose two times over is a miracle in itself.
But Nothing On rehearsals are so lackluster, and the cast's temperaments are so prickly, that there's already every reason to believe the staff are at each other's throats offstage. As physically brilliant as they are, director Sean Murray's backstage illustrations tend to blunt the relationships we've already imagined. It might have made more sense if playwright Michael Frayn had given us a flawless Nothing On in the third act instead of the garbage that follows. The contrast would have taken us by surprise, providing comic relief from the free-for-all that just ensued.
Beyond that, you have a highly experienced ensemble here, one rarely seen under one roof. Reynolds, John, Jonathan McMurtry, Kim Strassburger and others look like they've rehearsed this nutty thing for years. Farce is a devilishly difficult taskmaster, but it's no match for this collective savvy. This show isn't everything it could've been, but it's certainly enough. This review is based on the performance of July 18. Noises Off runs through Aug. 30 at the Old Town Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. in Old Town. $22-$48. 19-337-1525, www.cygnettheatre.com.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.