A review by Vatican Lokey
Thursday October 11, 07
by Vatican Lokey, StageClick.com
Nestled deep into the Central Florida countryside about 40 minutes away from Mr. Disney and his friends is the quiet community which provides the name for Theatre Winter Haven. Housed inside the Chain 'O' Lakes Civic Center, the theatre enjoys a well appointed performance space and copious backstage--a lovely surprise in such a rural setting. TWH opens its 38th season in Central Florida with Michael Frayn's jewelbox farce "Noises Off". Inspired by the "show backstage" at another play, Frayn's miasma of theatrical types, errant lovers, misunderstandings, doors, and sardines premiered in London's West End in 1982 to almost-universal acclaim. At the award-winning theatre in Winter Haven, Florida, the production both shines and tarnishes but remains appealing.
Guest Artistic Director James Carver has a wonderfully flawed show. Like so many other productions of "Noises", the first act starts slowly and drags a bit before finding its momentum towards the end. In my experience, this is a common affliction with the show, partially due to exposition and a certain distrust of the British idioms. However, by the second act the cast and the show are running along like a '71 Fiat - only a few breaks in the flow. A well-choreographed exchange between all of the characters in the second act had the audience in near-stitches, even though a few of the sight gags did fall flat. These were hardly a deficit though in the face of so many such gags flying in every direction. Special mention must be made of Melissa Careccia as Stage Manager Poppy and Daniel Terry as Technical Director Tim during this sequence—their total aplomb during the scene was very true to life. They also get to share one of the most recently-added scenes in the show, The Apology at the beginning of the third act. (Frayn continues to update and rewrite the script as necessary, to keep it current.) Mr. Carver has made excellent use of his actors' abilities.
Despite a slow start in the first act, the cast was well up to the challenge of creating the world of touring English theatre troupe for a Central Florida audience. Undoubtedly, the stars of the show are Beryl Rochatka and Mark Hartfield, playing the star and her director in an unnotable farce called "Nothing On." Ms. Rochatka plays Dotty Otley (a role originally written for the great Patricia Routledge,) with brio, brass, and a mug for every line. Her characterization of Otley as a seasoned, sometimes-numbed veteran of the English stage is nearly spot-on, right down to her goofy detatchment. As the fuming director Lloyd Dallas, Mr. Hartfield is a attention-getter with a magnificent voice and very British comic timing. Taking on the naughty-Zen-myopic ingenue Brooke, Miss Anna Kay had a definite feel for the role being what the theatre likes most; a pretty girl who'll take a dive for a laugh. As the standard supportings, Jan Perez impresses as charwoman-turned-actress Belinda Blair, with the help of Larry Harm's ineffectual Frederick Fellowes. Bruce Wise as the ever-at-a-loss-for-words leading man Garry Lejeune made the most of the part, even taking on Miss Kay for the title of daredevil du jour with a tumble down the staircase. As the august and somewhat inebriated old actor Selsdon Mowbray, local staple Ed Frisbie turned in his 11th performance on the TWH stage. From what I gathered in the lobby, Mr. Frisbie comes late to trodding the boards, yet has already earned a reputation as an attraction to be seen; a 'go-to' actor who can easily take on such unique roles. Though his accent is more Boston Blackie than Burlington Bertie, his performance was easily the best-appreciated of the evening by the audience.
However, every enjoyable show has its drawbacks. Throughout the evening, the cast as a whole had difficulties maintaining their British accents, with the exceptions of Ms. Rochatka, Mr. Hartfield, and Ms. Perez. Occasionally the timing of the lighter comedy suffered, such as the early exchanges between Lloyd and Frederick, and some of the physical comedy in the third act seemed labored. Still, the cast continued to maintain the integrity of their creation and plugged on in the best tradition. Theatre Winter Haven might also remember in the future that the biography of the playwright should also be included in the program, along with headshots of the creative staff and the cast members alongside their bios. We are all of course endlessly fascinated with your Board of Directors, Your Patron List, and your impressive sponsors, but we are also just as fascinated with the performers and staff as well.
The show is blessed with an impressive set designed by Alan S. Reynolds and constructed by Technical Director Steve Graybill. Though the two-story English country manor does look more Colonial Ranch than Georgian, it is a pretty set, rich in Scenic Artist Derek Wyatt's palette of white, gold, beige, and a surprisingly good array of furnishings for a semi-professional theatre. Camille McClellan's costumes were serviceable and in some instances lovely; they did a lot to establish the 1980's time-period. But, I wanted to see more vivid colors for Dotty's old houserobe and a more defined color scheme for Belinda and Frederick. Kudos as well to the running crew for their effortless changeover between the acts. Stick around during the first intermission and watch what they do...then applaud, they do it well.
Michael Frayn's "Noises Off" plays through October 14th at Theatre Winter Haven, inside the Chain 'O' Lakes Civic Center, 210 Cypress Gardens Boulevard, in Winter Haven, FL. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (863) 294-SHOW, or online at: www.theatrewinterhaven.com
FAMILY FRIENDLY: No one under the age of 10 should consider seeing "Noises Off", mainly because the adults become very silly and consequently rather boring for a kid.
Time: 2 ½ hours, with three 10-minute intermissions. Watch for the set changes during the intermissions.
Refreshments: Local church groups run the refreshment stands, so no luck for you folks who like a drink between the acts. There is also an art gallery adjacent to the theatre which features works by local artists. They are for purchase.