by Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant Contributor.
“To take the sardines, or to leave them!” That is the far less noble question that Dotty Otley (the amazing Helena Ruoti) must ask herself in the first act of “Nothing On!” the tongue-in-cheek play-within-a-play in “Noises Off” now playing at the Pittsburgh Public Theater.
There is much ado about “Nothing On,” as the characters perform the final dress rehearsal of the auspicious play. Otley’s remembering her words but not her actions. She’s not the only one who isn’t off book.
Director Lloyd Dallas (Michael MacCauley) is so exasperated that he’s about to throw his hands up in the air and resign from sheer frustration. Meanwhile, his latest squeeze, Brooke Ashton (Laura Woyasz), is squeezing out her dress on stage, getting close to having nothing on in “Nothing On.” Ashton is pretty in pink underwear and suddenly it’s immediately clear while a professional director would cast Ashton, a talentless and vapid bimbo.
“Noises Off” has many plot twists, actually plot trysts. Brooke does Dallas. The director has also popped off with Assistant Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor (Karen Baum). Leading lady Otley is coupling with the much younger Garry Lejeune (Noah Plomgren), in a May-December affair. Seasoned theater vet Belinda Blair (Garrett Long) has her eye on Frederick Fellowes (Preston Dyar), who’s wife has just left him. Selsdon Mowbray (Ralph Redpath) is in love with liquor. It’s quicker, and rarely disappoints unlike human lovers.
Things are about to get ridiculously crazy. It’s a door-slamming bedroom farce ramped up on ecstasy. Playwright Michael Frayn has created a frenetic ballet, with actors zigzagging around each other with deft choreography. Several games are going on at once. There’s a rousing round of Keep-a-way played with a bottle of booze and the aforementioned alcoholic. There’s a game of tug of war played between two sets of jealous lovers. Dyar’s Frederick Fellowes, obliviously, becomes the monkey in the middle. There are missing contact lenses, nose bleeds and a several slimy plates of sardines. The sardines, ironically, act as a red herring. You think you’re supposed to be paying attention to them, but it’s quite alright if you lose track of the canned critters. In the final act, they are everywhere.
Director Don Stephenson is juggling a lot of balls in the air, and hopefully he’s far less exasperated than his theatrical counterpart, Lloyd Dallas. Stephenson does an amazing job of keeping it all together.
Karen Baum, Helena Ruoti, Noah Plomgren. PHOTO: Pittsburgh Public Theater.
There are several standout performances in “Noises Off.”
Ruoti is consistently superb. Recently, Ruoti was recognized by the Allegheny County Council with a proclamation honoring her contribution to women in the arts as part of 2014’s Women’s History Month. She deserves every accolade.
Woyasz has one of the most difficult roles. Her character, Brooke Ashton, is a dimwit, and Woyasz has to convince the audience that her character is inept and untalented. The real life girl is anything but. Woyasz is a shining star playing a dim bulb.
Preston Dyar plays the obtuse Frederick Fellowes oblivious to almost everything going on around him, Long hands in a terrific performance, and Baum is delightful as the much-maligned Assistant Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor. Scott Cote plays Tim Allgood, the Stage Manager, with aplomb. Redpath’s stumbling drunk might be the nicest character in the bunch. He’s also a joy to watch.
The stage was so meticulously crafted. Michael Schweikardt’s set is lovingly rendered. It’s nearly an exact replica of the 1992 film version.
The first act is funny, but the second act is so hilariously and dizzyingly played you might need an oxygen tent to catch your breath from laughing. There are a plethora of laugh-out-loud moments. Unfortunately, things fall apart in the final act. In the third act, the characters have lost their charm and wit and just bumble about. They become much less likable, but that is, unfortunately, the point to all of it. Frayn’s ending is a bit abrupt and loose ends are strewn about like the aforementioned spilled sardines. However, the first two acts are worth the price of admission.
Catch “Noises Off” at the Pittsburgh Public Theater through June 29. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did.