With most plays, as far as the audience is concerned, what happens backstage stays backstage. After watching one of his own farces from the wings, English playwright Michael Frayn had an epiphany— the drama behind the drama could be very funny. The Cape Playhouse’s “Noises Off” hits the mark, maximizing Frayn’s organized bedlam and laugh-out-loud zaniness.
The term “noises off” is a theatrical stage direction calling for sounds coming from offstage. The comedy is a play within a play performed in three acts. The first and longest act introduces the actors and the characters they play in the bawdy farce “Nothing On” (which is repeated in each act). During the dress rehearsal, it quickly becomes clear the traveling acting troupe is not ready for opening night. The next two acts take place on their tour around England, with relationships becoming strained.
Keep in mind, most of the real-life actors have two roles to develop and keep straight: playing an actor in “Noises Off” and a character in “Nothing On.” The possible confusion for actor and audience alike is all part of the fun.
Longtime Playhouse favorite Jennifer Cody portrays Dotty, who is playing the overwhelmed housekeeper in “the show.” The exacting director (Jeremy Webb) becomes even more exasperated as Dotty can’t remember what to do with her props (mainly an absurd plate of sardines), before she exits through one of many doors in the stately English home (scenic design by David L. Arsenault).
Knowing the owners are on holiday, a business associate (John Scherer) sneaks in a young woman (Heidi Gardner from “Saturday Night Live”) for an afternoon tryst. Unexpectedly, the owners (David Patterson and Janine Lamanna) come home early. Throwing another wrench into the outrageous mix, Philip Goodwin plays the bumbling thief who has trouble breaking in on cue.
Chaos delightfully reigns as the actors quickly go in and out of the various doors, moving items around, like the plate of sardines, comically unaware of anyone else in the house. The cast is rounded out by Poppy (Taylor Galvin), the nervous stage manager and Craig Wesley Divino, who plays the eager-to-help stagehand.
In the second act, the elaborate set is completely rotated, enabling the audience to see what goes on backstage of “Nothing On.” The timeframe is a month later, new affairs have sprung up among the cast members and jealousy ensues, creating crazy antics while they perform the show.
In the last act, the set revolves back to normal, but now the audience has been behind the scenes and is in on all of the gags. “Nothing On’s” tour is coming to an end and the cast is on their last legs. In this act, the farcical romp quickly comes to an entertainingly chaotic climax.
“Noises Off” is all about timing and remembering the many differences between acts, some very subtle and some completely new, like when Scherer hilariously falls down the stairs in the third act. Even with the countless details, director Jeffry Denman maximizes the farce’s madcap pace.
The cast masterfully works together like a well-oiled machine. Of special note, Gardner is ideal as the ditsy blonde. She spends much of the show poised in her underwear, never altering her rehearsed blocking, not even if a flustered actor is unexpectedly behind her instead of in front. Additionally, Patterson seamlessly switches between an American accent and a British one, all the while acting with his pants down around his ankles for much of the show.
Many plays are billed as comedies, but often only a smattering of chuckles are heard from the audience. On opening night, the Playhouse’s “Noises Off” produced peals of laughter throughout the theater, especially when the ubiquitous plate of sardines was involved.
At The Cape Playhouse, Route 6A, Dennis
Through Aug. 17
Information and reservations: 877-385-3911