Slamming doors, comical misunderstandings, people running around in their underwear — they’re all elements of traditional British sex farce … as well as the farce-within-a-farce “Noises Off,” which kicks off Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre’s 103rd season.
In the first act, we see a doomed dress rehearsal in which a troupe of actors and their increasingly frustrated director (Ian Hoch, with impeccable, seething timing) attempt to stage a terrible farce called “Nothing On,” which is set in a two-story English country manor with plenty of doors to slam. Act 2 begins with the entire set rotating to show the backstage area one month later, where professional and personal jealousies have the cast performing a nearly wordless ballet of sight gags and arguments in the moments they’re not onstage. And a third act, two months later, is a repeat of Act 1, with the exhausted and bedraggled troupe slogging through a Saturday night performance where absolutely nothing goes right.
As Dotty Otley, the veteran actress who plays the hapless housekeeper in “Nothing On,” Leslie Castay handles both the verbal comedy and the increasingly frantic slapstick deftly. Jonathan Drury, Annie Gaia, Curtis Billings and Alix Paige play the four actors playing two couples who have sneaked into the house for some mid-afternoon delight, and each is adept at flying through doors, crashing through windows, tumbling down stairs and slipping on sardines. (Gaia has the best role as ditzy ingenue Brooke, who can’t help but mouth her co-stars’ lines when she’s not delivering her own.)
Cat Wilkinson and Dominic Giardina are terrific as a stage manager and assistant stage manager who manage to get pulled into the backstage drama (and, at times, the onstage comedy), and Michael Martin, one of New Orleans’ best character actors, is hilarious as Selsdon Mowbray, a veteran actor and equally veteran drunk who occasionally manages to make the right entrance.
The Broadway-worthy rotating set (by scenic designer Michael Schweikardt) is one of the stars of the show in its own right. Under Blake Coheley’s direction, the two-and-a-half hour comedy never flags. It’s a terrific season start for Le Petit Theatre.