Backstage For 'Noises Off:' Cool, Calm And Comic

In Michael Frayn's onstage/off-stage farce Noises Off, everything that could go wrong with the show within the show (Nothing On) does: Lines are forgotten, cues are missed and messy relationships erupt in the middle of the show. Pity the characters of Tim and Poppy, the frazzled stage managers of this provincial English theatre company, who have to deal with egos, accidents and showmances.

Frayn said Noises Off was inspired after witnessing a backstage fiasco while a farce he had written was going on. "It was funnier from behind than in front," he once said.

Backstage at the current Broadway revival of the 1982 play, things are run with the serene efficiency of an air traffic controller on Ativan.

Despite the fact the script calls endless entrances and exits, countless sound, prop and lighting cues and a rotating set that reveals the backstage meltdown of the cast, the real-life stage-managing of the Roundabout Theatre Company production was an exercise in clockwork precision and team coordination, at least that's what was seen watching the show from a perch in the wings at a recent matinee.

Hopes were high that there would be something deliciously riotous to report, particularly when it was learned that Meredith Florenza would substitute for Megan Hilty in the role of dim beauty, Brooke Ashton. Though there was extra attention paid to the put-in actress, all her cues were perfect and her performance was flawless and the show ran without a trace of chaos or anxiety. Damnit.

Still, it was fascinating to watch Tony Award-winning actor Andrea Martin take comedy so seriously: as she prepared for yet another entrance, seated in a folding chair just behind one of the many doors of the set, her head bowed in concentration, listening for her cue that would return her to the onstage mayhem.