Noises Off | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Noises Off 

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NOISES OFF, Broutil & Frothingham Productions, at the Theatre Building. Uncovering the humorous side of entropy, Michael Frayn's comedy exposes the backstage shenanigans of a tempestuous English troupe, nine preposterous players touring the provinces with "Noises On," a lame-brained bedroom farce that self-destructs along with its feuding, ad-libbing, hatchet-wielding ensemble. Of course that show's breakdown--everything that can go wrong does--is far funnier than the farce itself could ever be.

Terry McCabe's inexhaustible ensemble are almost perfectly imperfect in their outsize mugging, histrionics, and split-second evocations of chaos. And Jacqueline and Richard Penrod's sturdy revolving set wonderfully contrasts the contrivances of art with the desperation of life. But on occasion the comic machinery shows through when it shouldn't. And this clockwork spoof shouldn't be just a catalog of calamities--it's also an affectionate tribute to the excesses of second-rate thespians everywhere. Here the truth of those types is subordinated to the breakneck blocking and physical gags.

Still, there are enough laughs that the lack of character-generated humor isn't fatal. Page Hearn has wistful fun with his literal but good-hearted leading man, and Doug MacKechnie keeps his sarcastic director on the right side of our sympathies. But Cameron Feagin slips too easily into the contempt her character feels for everyone around her. This actress's rage must be developed, not presumed--a problem that afflicts several portrayals here.

--Lawrence Bommer


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