It’s commonly known among Chicagoans that this particular time of the year is, inarguably, the worst; the post-holiday blues have hit in full force, and the once-picturesque snow has rendered the streets and sidewalks a slushy obstacle course. Enter Noises Off. Windy City Playhouse’s rendition of the ever-popular farce acts as the perfect antidote for the winter blues. Though its antics have not all aged well, there is still plenty to generate some much-needed laughter and warmth, and Windy City’s technical triumphs only add to the experience.
Set in three acts, Michael Frayn’s play follows the disintegration of a production, from the chaotic final dress rehearsal to the disastrous closing performance. Though first published in 1982, the play has maintained its place as one of the best loved “play within a play” plots ever since, surely in large part due to its unique three act structure, which keeps audience members guessing and laughing throughout. While the show typically includes a revolving set or a mid-intermission transition between acts one and two, Director Scott Weinstein and Scenic Designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec take a different approach, sending the audience backstage with the cast. This more intimate setting for the quick-paced second act renders it even uproarious and gives Windy City Playhouse the opportunity for additional gags, like handing out programs for Nothing On before act three.
This technical twist elevates the production as as whole, but the other directorial and design decisions do not add much more to the script. The cast is solid, with standouts like Amy J. Carle (Dotty Otley) and Scott Duff (Frederick Fellows) taking care to stay grounded in the show’s central premise: that it's the circumstances, not the characters themselves (to their knowledge, anyway) that are absurd. Others, however, fall victim to the tendency of working too hard for laughs. The costume pieces and stylistic choices function well but are memorable only when a few anachronistic elements appear.
While it may not wholly redefine Frayn’s well-loved script, Windy City Playhouse’s production of Noises Off succeeds in offering up a comedy sure to warm even the coldest of hearts. Who, after all, doesn’t love a good British farce and some sardines?
Review by Emily Schmidt
Noises Off continues at Windy City Playhouse through March 31. Info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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