A slapstick within a slapstick, Noises Off concerns the cast and crew of a British sex comedy entitled Nothing On, and Frayn's conceit is brilliant: Act I shows the group, their show in disarray, readying for the next evening's opening performance with a clunky dress/tech; Act II gives us a backstage view of the production a month into its run; and Act III puts us in the audience for Nothing On's wretchedly unprofessional closing night. By play's end, the troupe's offstage shenanigans have completely dovetailed with their onstage ones, and Frayn has puppeteered his clueless thespians with astonishing skill.
Noises Off is like a farce on a triple espresso - the slamming of doors becomes so rapid-fire that the sounds suggest the emptying of a Tommy Gun - so huzzahs and deep gratitude to director Michael King, who orchestrates this whirligig of theatrical frenzy with knockout assurance. (After its shaky opening, that is, as it took about 15 minutes for the show to find its footing when I saw a preview last week. The pauses and casual line deliveries balance the later hysteria nicely, but the relaxed air is a little too relaxed; one thing Noises Off should never be is subtle.) Act II, in particular - with cast members attempting to kill one another and entrances and off-stage lines being routinely missed - is staggeringly good; there's a comic routine involving the passing of an axe that's so well-choreographed you want to applaud, and it's not the only sequence of this caliber. When you're not laughing, chances are you're still marveling at the exquisite construction of both the play and King's handling of it.
In a show boasting several fine performances, there's one absolutely spectacular one: Jason Platt, as the quick-to-boil, tongue-tied clown Garry, gives his role such a physically and verbally dexterous workout that he leaves you a bit in awe. By initially establishing a cool, unflappable character who gradually, hilariously falls to pieces, Platt gives his brilliant caricature an added element of humanity; it's the rare performer who can hop around with his shoelaces tied together and make you feel his pain. This is a thrilling comic performance; if a nervous breakdown had legs, it would resemble Jason Platt's Garry.
If necessary, Platt probably could've been the whole show, but all the cast members fulfill their functions in this inventive mousetrap ably, and a few border on the inspired. As the ensemble's doddering drunk, Pat Flaherty displays full-throttle, Monty Python-esque brio (his character voice sounds remarkably similar to Terry Jones' when in campy, British-mum mode); Flaherty is the most blatant cartoon here, and an exquisitely robust one. Andy Lord plays apologetic hypochondria with considerable charm and scores laughs effortlessly - his best lines seem to come from under his breath - and in a lovely burst of meta-theatre-within-meta-theatre, Noises Off director King is cast as Nothing On's randy director, and is appropriately, comically anguished.
Not all of the roles are painted with equally inspired brushstrokes - Melissa Coulter and Brianne Kinney hit their marks but don't have enough amusing things to do - yet the actors are constantly on top of their material: Sara Nicole Wegener, Matt Gerard, Tracy Pelzer-Timm ... you won't find any slackers in this cast. Ghostlight has taken a particularly challenging work and pulled it off with total confidence, and I can imagine no higher compliment to pay any production of Noises Off: to look like you're not breaking a sweat while the characters themselves do nothing but is a hell of an accomplishment.
For more information or tickets, visit (http://www.ghostlighttheatre.org).