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OFF BROADWAY'S `NOISES OFF' IS FINELY TUNED, HILARIOUS

"Noises Off" is not merely a play-within-a-play.

It's an extremely chaotic play within a fiercely frenetic play. And it's probably the funniest script ever written for the stage.If, perchance, you've viewed the short-lived movie version (which was whisked off to video as fast as you can say "Where's the sardines!"), then you've never really seen "Noises Off" the way it should be seen.

It's a high-energy theatrical piece that must be witnessed live to fully appreciate the rapid-fire comedy, the pratfalls and the hilarious backstage humor.

What the intimate Off Broadway Theatre lacks in high-tech scenery and a plenty-ofelbow-room stage is more than compensated for by director Doyle Jenkins' finely tuned ensemble - most of whom have ample experience in both stand-up and stage comedy.

Without divulging too much of the plot (it would take a book to really do that justice), "Noises Off" is about a somewhat slipshod troupe of British actors in the process of mounting what appears to be a dreadful little play called "Nothing On."

I would strongly suggest arriving at the Off Broadway Theatre at least half an hour prior to curtain, just so you can carefully study the printed program.

Because this is a play-within-a-play, there is also a program-within-a-program - two pages of cast lists and "bios" for the alleged "Nothing On" production, followed by three more pages about the authentic Off Broadway Theatre cast and credits.

It helps to know beforehand that talented Kimberlee Hart is playing actress/producer Dotty Otley . . . who, in turn, has cast herself as the daffy Mrs. Clackett in "Nothing On." (Since Otley is bankrolling the production, it matters not a whit that she can't remember even one cohesive line.)

Popular local comedians Bob Bedore and Eric Jensen play, respectively, feuding actors Garry Lejeune and Frederick Fellowes . . . the latter who are attempting (not always successfully) to depict romantic Roger Tramplemain and tax evader Phillip Brent.

Two outstanding comediennes - Amber Hutchings and Melissa Porter - portray ditzy actress Brooke Ashton and ever-competent Belinda Blair . . . who are in the "Nothing On" roles of Vicki (Tramplemain's conquest-of-the-day) and Flavia Brent (Phillip Brent's exasperated wife).

Getting confused?

It really helps to just sit down and watch the play from beginning to end - starting with Act 1 (the Jan. 14 dress rehearsal from hell) . . . then Act 1 (an on-the-road matinee a month later) . . . and, once again, Act 1 (this time three weeks later during a performance where the entire ensemble has deteriorated into a theatrical disaster).

Other fine players in OBT's talented cast include Robert Bogue as Lloyd Dallas, the progressively more frustrated director; Sandy Jensen as Poppy Norton-Taylor, the British troupe's somewhat confused assistant stage manager; hilarious Russell Peacock as stage manager/emergency actor Tim Allgood, and Alan Mangum, who is quite wonderful as tippler Selsdon Mowbray (who portrays a less-than-crafty burglar who's pivotal to the "Nothing On" plot).

Speaking of pivotal - OBT's sluggishly revolving scenery is the only technical drawback to this production. It spoils much of the play's surprise by seeing the cast and crew manually turn the scenery around between the second and third acts. Unfortunately, the Off Broadway does not have a stage curtain, which would at least keep this activity concealed.

But it's a minor problem and quickly forgotten once all the chaotic running to and fro gets back into high gear.