NOISES OFF Returns and Proves Whatever Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong!

In 1970, Michael Frayn, the English playwright who would go on to write NOISES OFF, was standing backstage in the wings watching a performance of one of his other farces “The Two of Us.” Of that performance he said, “It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.”

By the late 70s, Frayn had created the hilarious three-act NOISES OFF, whose title is taken from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage. And for those never involved in putting on a theatrical play, I can tell you there is more than one show going on at each performance, especially backstage where the stage manager must not only wrangle the cast to be ready and enter at the right time but to also check props, costumes, lighting and sound cues, and basically make sure the performance is presented as the director intended it to be seen. And it’s a fact that given all the things that can go wrong backstage, it’s often a miracle the performance makes it to its curtain call at all.

But it is those instances of pandemonium both onstage and backstage that create laugher from start to finish in NOISES OFF, presented with a real flair for comic timing, entrances and exits, costume changes, tons of props, and an energetic cast who can run around like lunatics and still be able to remember all their lines!  Such is the case at the Long Beach Playhouse under the brilliant direction of Gregory Cohen who first assembled his cast in early 2020, opened the show in March 2020, and then had the pandemic outbreak shut it down just two weeks into the run. And now they are back (with just one replacement cast member) through October 9 to carry on with the mayhem and mischief to delight audiences.

Called the funniest farce ever written, NOISES OFF presents a manic menagerie of itinerant British actors rehearsing a flop called “Nothing’s On.” Doors slamming, on and offstage intrigue, jilted lovers, misplaced and forgotten props, especially errant sardines, all figure in the plot of this hilarious and classically comic play within a play.

The cast features Andrea Stradling as dedicated but forgetful actress Dotty Otley, Eric Schiffer as the womanizing director Lloyd Dallas, handsome John Vann as younger leading man Garry Lejeune, Amara Phelps (who steals many a scene as the cell phone selfie-obsessed lingerie-wearing ingénue Brooke Ashton, Travis Wade as health-challenged actor Frederick Fellowes, Adanna Kenlow as Belinda Blair, perhaps the most “professional” actor of the troupe who attempts to hold things together, Lewis Leighton as washed-up by booze actor Selsdon Mowbray, Lyndsay Palmer as the put-upon and stressed-out Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor who has a big secret herself, and PJ Cimacio as the Set Desginer/Tech Manager Tim Allgood who is called upon to take on several roles when actors are no-shows.

Each of these actors is to be commended for their boundless energy and great skill at physical humor, especially with all the dual-level entrances and exits at breakneck speed and props to remember.  Timing is everything in this farce and this cast never misses a beat – even when we are supposed to think they have.

Act One takes place onstage at the final dress rehearsal of “Nothing’s On” with the cast hopelessly unready, although we are given a peak at how the show is supposed to go, especially their entrances and exits and how many seemingly meaningless plates of sardines have to be carried on and taken back off stage. The act ends with intermission during which Larry Mura’s remarkable double-sided set is completely turned around to allow Act Two to take place backstage a few weeks into the show’s run, which allows the audience to see behind the scenes. And trust me, with all of the actors’ antics going on, it’s every Stage Manager’s nightmare about losing control of the show!

At the end of Act Two, the cast changes the set pieces around in full view of the audience, generating a much-deserved round of applause when the set is back in place. Act Three then takes place at a performance onstage near the end of the fictional ten-week run when personal friction between the actors has continued to increase to the point that their frazzled nerves are getting the best of them.

So in essence, we watch as “Nothing On” is staged three times with each performance sinking lower into the depths of a staged nightmare generating laughs galore, even as the plot breaks down in the process. As the shenanigans mount and the play begins to unravel, it is the actors, each one of them incredibly physically agile, who make this farce come alive and generate hysterical laughter that fills the theater!

NOISES OFF continues at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim Street in Long Beach 90804, through October 9 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Audience members must show proof of vaccination for admittance and wear a face at all times inside the building. Tickets run $14-$24, available by calling the box office at (562) 494-1014 or online at where you can also select your seat assignments on any of the three sides of the thrust stage. And be prepared to try and follow all the action while laughing from start to finish!Photo credit: Michael Hardy Photography

Spotlight Series: Meet Andrea Stradling, an Actor Formerly in Health Care Public Relations

This Spotlight focuses on Andrea Stradling, a Los Angeles-based actor formerly in health care public relations who fully understands and appreciates the dedication and sacrifices being made by those on the frontline treating patients in the CoViD-19 pandemic. And like so many other actors, the show in which Andrea was performing had to end its run earlier than expected, opening up unplanned time in her schedule to fill with online theatrical opportunities.

Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Andrea Stradling (Andrea): I have acted in productions throughout Los Angeles and its surrounding communities since the 1980s. In 2012, I was able to retire early from a career in health care public relations, enabling me to concentrate full time on my theatrical endeavors which has been an absolute joy. However, my heart is with my many close colleagues who are still courageously working the front lines of this terrible pandemic.

(SB): I remember first meeting you when I took publicity photos for the Kentwood Players production of Clybourne Park at the Westchester Playhouse in which you portrayed the dual roles of Bev and Kathy. What production were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

Harold Dershimer and Andrea Stradling in “Clybourne Park” by Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse

Andrea: On January 2, I was cast as Dotty Otley in Noises Off at Long Beach Playhouse. It was a fantastic opportunity to do a show that is traditionally performed, and usually rather dependent on, a proscenium stage, rather than it was being stages on a deep thrust with arena style seating. It was a puzzle to figure out, and an amazing cardio workout to perform! But our talented and creative director, Gregory Cohen, marvelously staged it and we opened February 22 to rave reviews.

Andrea Stradling as Dotty Otley in “Noises Off” at Long Beach Playhouse.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

Andrea: Our fourth weekend began Thursday, March 12. The day was ominous, dark and rainy, with news reports emphasizing the importance of social distancing (especially in crowds) running all day long. I kept checking my phone, but hearing nothing to the contrary, I left for the theater as usual. At approximately our half hour call, the theater’s artistic director, Sean Gray, asked us to assemble on stage. He was there with Madison Mooney, executive director, and together they shared that, after a grueling day of conversations with city officials, it was decided that that night’s performance would be our last. In total, we lost being able to perform our last five shows.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

Andrea: Sean and Madison were absolutely lovely and just as gutted as we were about having to close the show early. There was talk of a possible remount in November, but that would be dependent upon so many variables, least of which involves the Playhouse getting the rights to the show again and the cast’s availability at that time. I think it is very much up in the air.

Andrea Stradling and the cast of “Noises Off” at the Long Beach Playhouse.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

Andrea: The only other definite job I had was performing in Sierra Madre Playhouse’s production of A Christmas Story this November/December 2020. But now, SMP has put their entire season on hold because of the pandemic. I was so looking forward to being in the show, as this would have been my third time appearing as Mother, and the production is to be directed by the wonderfully creative Christian Lebano, the Playhouse’s artistic director.  I am heartbroken about this, both personally and because of the devastating financial impact for the theater.

(SB):  How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites? 

Andrea: Like everyone, I’m sure, I’m doing my best to continue submitting myself for work, and I appreciate the latitude casting directors have given regarding self-taping via cell phones. I sent in one monologue where I held the phone with my left hand and tried not to breathe too loudly, but my husband said my face looked too big!

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

Andrea: I appreciate so much watching friends share their incredible talent via social media with lots of online monologues, beautiful songs, dancing, impressions — it’s all wonderful.  Theatrical organizations all over the world are being so generous offering up free streaming of their productions. I enjoyed a staged reading via Zoom of IVRT’s recent production of A Streetcar Named Desire. I saw Kevin Kline in Present Laughter and just watched a fantastic production of Jane Eyre streamed on YouTube by London’s National Theatre. Bravo!!

(SB): I agree with you. It’s incredible all the wonderful productions from around the world that are now available for free online. I am especially enjoying watching all the Broadway musical productions as it has been a really long time since I was able to get to New York to experience them in person.  

Andrea: Despite the quarantine, I feel blessedly connected to my theatre family thanks to the connectivity of social media. I pray for everyone’s good health and resilience, and especially that the theaters that have been my havens for the last 30 years receive the support they need to reopen and thrive.

This article first appeared on Broadway World.