That a play in which things go so horribly wrong can get things so hysterically right is the fundamental paradox at the screwball heart of “Noises Off,” Michael Frayn’s classic comedy that returns to A Noise Within for a fourth (and already extended) run.
The enduring popularity of this production, once again co-directed by the wife-husband team of Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott, lies in its spot-on performances, surgically-precise slapstick and ingenious deconstruction of the conventions of farce even as it faithfully executes them — from slamming doors to bawdy double-entendres.
Life in the theater meets Murphy’s Law in Frayn’s intricate play-within-a-play, as a touring troupe keeps trying to get through the first act of the dreadful sex farce aptly titled “Nothing On.” Their first attempt is a dress rehearsal in which missed cues and flubbed lines do not bode well.
Things haven’t improved when they try the same scene a month into the tour. We watch from behind the stage (courtesy of Fred Kinney’s superbly detailed, revolving two-story set) as their egos, rivalries and amorous intrigues prove as disastrous as their mediocre onstage talents.
Reprising their roles from 2009, Geoff Elliott’s sarcastic, lecherous director, Deborah Strang’s absent-minded star, Apollo Dukakis’ tipsy old-timer, Emily Kosloski’s ditzy bombshell and Jill Hill’s gossip-monger show that they have their characters (and their characters’ characters) in their bones. Rafael Goldstein, Erika Soto, Kasey Mahaffy and Jeremy Rabb hold their own with the frenetic pacing in a production that offers as many laughs per minute as anything you’re likely to find in a theater.
Still, it’s hard to see in these relentlessly lowbrow antics the same heady playwright whose “Copenhagen” explored human relations through the lens of quantum physics — that is, until the third act. Watching once again from the house perspective as the hapless troupe’s final performance completely unravels, it finally dawned on me that far from being a mere entertaining diversion, “Noises Off” is the living embodiment of thermodynamic entropy in action.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena
When: 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends May 26. See website for additional performances.
Info: (626) 356-3121 or www.anoisewithin.org
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
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