REVIEW: Noises Off

NOISES OFF is ridiculous in the most impressive way possible.  Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, which tends to go in a slapstick-y direction with comedy most of the time, has found the perfect show for their on stage hijinks and to highlight some of their funniest actors and actresses.  If you do not laugh at this production, you probably should just stick to high drama from now on.

For those unfamiliar (of which I was before tonight), this is a play within a play.  Director Lloyd Dallas (Brian Isaac Phillips, who ironically is the Artistic Director of this company) is staging a farce called “Nothing On,” a not-so-great play that’s more about slamming doors and dropped-trou than anything else.  There’s the aging star (Dale Hodges), the drunken old stage veteran (Joneal Joplin), the vocabulary-challenged leading man (Jeremy Dubin), the vapid bombshell (Brooke Steele), the hapless and dim-witted nice guy (Justin McCombs) and the peace-making gossip (Kelly Mengelkoch).  Oh and Sarah Clark and Geoffrey Warren Barnes II are here as stage managers, too.

The relationships are funny, many of the gags clever, but most of the comedy comes from the physical humor. Dubin and McCombs are very well-known for their pratfalls and over-the-top style.  But who knew that Dale Hodges and Joneal Joplin, Cincinnati theatre royalty, were this hilarious?  And Brooke Steele?  We’ve seen her do funny and serious and sing like an angel down the street at Ensemble Theatre Company in multiple roles (HANDS ON A HARDBODY, VIOLET, CINDERELLA EVER AFTER) but her all-in investment in this show is a thing of beauty.  As an ensemble, this cast works in sync to milk all the laughs it can.

Director Ed Stern understands that a show like this is all about timing.  The doors have to slam at the right time, the blocking must be precise, and for the comedy to really work, the characters have to be well-defined without much in the way of backstory.  He excels at all of the above.  The hijinks during the second act, which is like silent-film comedy is a thing of comedic beauty and Bruce Cromer, fight director, needs all the credit in the world for keeping these actors safe while entertaining us all.

Also beautiful is the set, which rates on a turntable twice during the production.  Joe Tilford’s gorgeous on-stage and back-stage scenes are first-rate.  Reba Senske’s costumes are perfect and Thomas C. Hase’s simple but effective lighting design accentuates the performance.

This is the first time that CSC has added seats on the floor where typically there’s a thrust from the stage.  I didn’t notice until halfway through the first act; I’m really happy that they continue to explore this new space and find new ways to use it.  It also adds a few extra tickets, which they are going to need once word gets out about how much fun NOISES OFF is to watch.

NOISES OFF runs through June 9th at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company in Over-the-Rhine.  Tickets and more information can be found here.