What makes a perfect play?
Well, the best of everything: words, performance, direction, design. It doesn’t seem possible. Alchemy is key, and there’s that theory about the moon’s position and high tide and all that. Even still, perfection isn’t the goal in art, right? But what if it’s the byproduct?
The Kavinoky’s current production of Michael Frayn’s classic modern farce “Noises Off” is perhaps not absent of flaws. That would be absurd. I dare you to find anything wrong with it, though, or to not take pure joy in everything it offers.
Putting this into context, we’re talking about a play specifically about imperfection. Frayn wraps his farce within another farce, where a British road company is preparing the opening performance of the door-slamming “Nothing On.” Its cast is down to the wire, hours away from the debut and nowhere near being ready. They’re not bad actors – though hardly Shakespearean – but their director is disorganized and petulant with them. Their engine is stalled.
The self-serving company is frustrated with each other, the exhausted stage manager is trying to fix everyone’s problems, and a stagehand is just trying to stay awake, having worked for days without sleep.
Yet, the show must go on, like it or not. The second and third acts of our play repeat the first act of their play, weeks apart, as relationships and professionalism waver. This “ensemble” is not so committed after all, bad news for any play but especially damaging to an intricately staged farce.
Director David Lamb has the advantage of a far more capable cast. This is one fine ensemble, another casting home run for the Kavinoky.
Familiar faces include Peter Palmisano as director Lloyd Dallas; Michele Marie Roberts as stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor; John Fredo as leading man Frederick Fellowes; Lisa Ludwig as leading lady Belinda Blair; and Christian Brandjes as the absent-minded drunk Selsdon Mowbray. (What names!)
As we’ve come to expect from them, dependable and sharp performances are a given. Fredo, especially, gives us a great take on the academically fueled Frederick, whose insistence on nailing his character’s motivation for mundane tasks is especially entertaining. Brandjes, even a tiny bit miscast as this quiet nuisance, delivers with appropriate measure. Ludwig has great comedic timing here, as does Roberts, who, along with Kevin Craig as stagehand Tim Allgood, are our cynical, imprisoned voices of reason.
Bless all three for trying to keep the sinking “Nothing On” afloat. They do what they can, literally jumping over hurdles and dodging moving targets, but like their failed director, they just can’t corral these fools. Frayn makes a thoughtful point with their efforts: Some disasters aren’t meant to be fixed, just managed.
Guy Balotine wins the award for most impressive jumping. His dashing Garry Lejeune is a real jerk in the first act, and foolish clown in the second. He makes his way up and around David King’s remarkable set and Brian Cavanaugh’s gorgeous lighting with Olympic finesse.
Josie DiVincenzo, as the forgetful Dotty Otley, is a hoot, channeling Lucille Ball with her narrow attention span. Poor Dotty can’t figure this whole “stage direction” thing out, devoted to the cause as she is.
The second act’s cacophonous backstage is a marvel of choreographic and technical might. The Ringling Brothers should take notes. It’s impossible to take it all in, considering the multitude of moving parts, which suggest everything from pantomime to ballet to Chaplinesque vaudeville. Any single snapshot of this insanity, even those wanderingly observed on the side, is worth a thousand words.
One glance you won’t miss is that of Jessica Ferraday, a Buffalo native who, according to program notes, lives in Connecticut and is making her local debut while being “back for a bit.” The question is how to keep her around for a bit longer. Her take on the buxom Brooke Ashton, the bombshell who can’t recite a line without waving her arms and panning her head, is way more layered and interesting than Frayn probably meant for her to be. This is an incredible performance.
Ferraday is a great example that crafting a flawless show is not about expertly replicating what’s on the page as much as it is capitalizing on your resources. The “Nothing On” company doesn’t get that, but to our pleasure, the “Noises Off” ensemble delivers on this ideal in imperfectly perfect ways.
Four stars (Out of four)
Through March 10 in the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave. Tickets are $35 to $39. Call 829-7668 or visit www.kavinokytheatre.com.