Orlando Shakes • Orlando, Florida
By Michael Frayn
Directed by Jim Helsinger
Starring Anne Hering, Timothy Williams, Phillip Nolan and Brandon Roberts
by Carl F. Gauze
Quarantines, masks, paranoia and death—the four horsemen of the theater apocalypse retreat from reality as Orlando Shakes explodes on opening night to deliver one of the funniest stage plays ever. We begin with a parking lot crisis as Orlando Museum of Art held its own packed event. Something about paintings, I heard. But over on the cool kids’ side of the lot, Orlando theater cognoscenti roll up by the SUV-full to celebrate a return to on-stage normalcy. At a cost of 50 seats or so, Orlando Shakes turned the Shakespearean thrust stage into a proscenium. That’s theater talk for “You stay on your side of the 4th wall, we’ll stay on ours.” Pre-curtain, there were lectures and hors d’oeuvres and a new bar menu that no longer takes the coin of the realm. They now only accept ethereal electronic monies.
On stage we meet an all star cast: Anne Hering plays the long suffering Dotty Otly as she works through tech night to block a chewy little British sex comedy, the sort of thing that drove clear thinking artists to invent Monty Python. Their plot is a tawdry sex romp (think Benny Hill without the intellectual baggage) and with only 12 hours to curtain, the cast still isn’t off book and actors routinely miss their cues. Directing them is the patient and yet frustrated Lloyd Dallas (Tim Williams). He seems the only vaguely competent member of this company. He’s still blocking the fading Dotty as she moves sardines around the set and struggles to remember where to put them and whether she must actually eat one. The scruffy Selsdon Mowbray (Phillip Nolan) needs a pint or two of whiskey to get in character while Freddy routinely visits the house unexpectedly. He’s here to drive a plot point but shouldn’t even be in the UK for complicated tax reasons that only the English will understand. My policy is never put calculus or tax law on stage, but here the tax thing provides the McGuffin needed to set off the laughs.
The thing that strikes me most about this Noises Off is the cast. These are all the A-list actors for both Orlando Shakes and the Central Florida theater scene in general. I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed all of these luminaries in one production. The other unique element here is the transformation of the Shakespearean thrust stage into a more modern proscenium. The original Orlando Shakes facilities were intentionally designed to mimic Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse, and it was no small feat to rearrange the space as well as sacrifice a reasonable chunk of paying seats. Clearly there must have been equally dramatic arm waving discussion in the board room of this facility. But whatever may be lost in seating can be made up with matinees, and this successful high profile show will be remembered long after the taxes are done. Get tickets NOW, this will show will sell out fast. I might even sneak back in. In disguise, of course.