Theater & Dance
"Noises Off"

By: Michael Frayn
Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Jeffrey Lo
Fight choreography by: Stephen Muterspaugh
Featuring: Lawrence-Michael Arias, David Blackburn, David Crane, Brigitte Losey, Ross Neuenfeldt, Heather Orth, Luisa Sermol, Michelle Skinner, and Max Tachis
Running time: One and a half intermissions
When: October 11-28, 2018
Where: Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City
Tickets: $35–$52; call 650-349-6411, extension 2, or visit

Feature on actor Max Tachis

Sermol, Tachis, Skinner
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Max Tachis, center, as Garry, complains about all the doors and the sardines in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Noises Off.” At left is Luisa Sermol; at right is Michelle Skinner. The show runs October 11-28, 2018.
'Noises Off' but happy hilarity is on
in great comedy at Hillbarn Theatre
Michael Frayn masterpieces gets a stunning production
October 19, 2018

The good news is that the Hillbarn Theatre production of “Noises Off” is outrageously, brilliantly hilarious, with the audience roaring with laughter, tears of joy running down their cheeks.

The bad news is that there are only seven performances left, including tonight, because the show must close on October 28.

Hats off to director Jeffrey Lo, who put together an amazing cast. Comedy is hard, and lots of actors just can’t do it. It requires timing and a connection with the audience that many performers just can’t provide.

And the Michael Frayn play is loaded with slapstick, which is another notch on the accomplishments belt, because not only is it often dangerous — this entire cast may have to go directly to the hospital when this show closes — for it to work, it has to come as a surprise. The audience can’t see it coming.

This cast shocks the audience time and again with hilarious stunts that undoubtedly left many of them bruised and battered. Gotta love them for it.

Losey, Crane
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Brigitte Losey, left, and David Crane in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Noises Off.”

The story is about a theater company that is trying to get ready for a goofy sex comedy called “Nothing On.” The plan is to do one week at the Grand Theatre in Weston-Super-Mare, then take it on the road.

Act I is midnight the day before opening, the cast is not remotely ready, and the show’s director, “Lloyd Dallas,” is drowning in desperation, sarcasm and anger, as he tries to at least get the cast through Act I of the goofy show.

David Crane, in his Hillbarn debut, is brilliant as Lloyd. He does amazing things with his face, which broadcasts his every thought, and then some. Really, it is very rewarding to watch this fellow act. (He was very good in the premiere of “The Prince of Egypt” a year ago at TheatreWorks.) His is going to be a career to watch.

Act II is again Act I of “Nothing On,” this time a month later, and seen from backstage. The cast is still messing up cues and movements, with several people involved in fits of jealous rage as various romances are clashing.

Act III is again Act I of “Nothing On,” seen from the audience about a month and a half later, as everything and everyone is coming apart.

Act 1 is funny, but acts II and III are outrageous. There’s a fire axe that dances through everybody’s hands as some try to actually kill each other, and really, fight choreographer Stephen Muterspaugh should be brought out to take a bow.

Max Tachis, a veteran of TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, City Lights San Jose and other theaters, makes his Hillbarn debut as Garry, a star of “Nothing On.” If John Cleese ever wanted to retire, Tachis could take over as the Minister of Silly Walks, given his long-legged movements on the set’s second floor. He also manages astounding stunts, which we will leave for you to discover when you see the show. He is a very strong actor, and makes everything work.

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Ross Neuenfeldt, oft seen at Hillbarn, is hilarious as the gentle but dim Frederick, who bursts into nosebleeds at the mention of violence, or of blood, which keeps him with a hanky to his face much of the time. He does one of the best prat falls in the show, which is a total shocker.

Heather Orth is Belinda, who both seems to stir the pot of inter-cast jealousies, but also works hard to keep everybody alive and trying to meet their cues. Neuenfeldt nearly disappears into her cleavage at one point, which is one of a couple of gags involving her breasts.

Luisa Sermol, this show’s only Equity member, is very, very funny as Dotty, a TV star who returns to theater to play a dotty housekeeper whose main job seems to be carrying around plates of sardines.

Michelle Skinner is very funny as Brooke, who spends most of the show in her underwear (the play within the play is “Nothing On,” after all), and losing her contact lenses, which throws everyone into floor-searching panics.

Brigitte Losey, a Hillbarn veteran, is solid and touching as the Poppy, the assistant stage manager, who desperately tries to keep the show’s wheels from flying off. And failing, thanks to the crazy cast.

Lawrence-Michael Arias, a veteran of theaters ranging from Hillbarn to New York, is funny as Selsdon, a famous actor who is now old, and drunk as often as he can find any booze.

David Blackburn, another Hillbarn veteran, is funny and frustrated as Tim, the overworked stage manager who desperately needs sleep.

The set, by scenic designer Christopher Flitzer, deserves its own round of applause (except for the unforgivable “wallpaper” of the “Nothing On” set). Many productions of “Noises Off” take place on turntable sets, but Hillbarn doesn’t have one of those, so between acts the entire set is rotated on rollers. That is something to see. It’s like watching a house being moved. Hillbarn Executive Artistic Director Dan Demers came within about a half-inch of losing a foot to the thing as it was being rotated.

All part of the show!

Another hand of applause ought to go to dialect coach Cameron Wells, who had most of the cast speaking in very good British accents.

Costumes by Mae Heagerty-Matos were delightful, especially Skinner’s lacy, frilly underwear.

As “Nothing On” continues to fall apart as a show, the costumes become part of the craziness.

Kudos to the entire production team.

John Orr is a member of the America Theatre Critics Association. Email him at
Noises Off cast
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
They have reason to be shocked in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Noises Off.” In front, from left, are Luisa Sermol, David Blackburn, and Michelle Skinner. In back, from left, are Max Tachis, Ross Neuenfeldt, Lawrence-Michael Arias, and Heather Orth. The show runs October 11-28, 2018.
Neuenfeldt, Orth
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Ross Neuenfeldt as Frederick, left, is comforted by Heather Orth as Belinda in "Noises Off" at Hillbarn Theatre. The show runs October 11-28, 2018.

Neuenfeldt, Sermol
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
Ross Neuenfeldt, left, between nosebleeds, and Luisa Sermol in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Noises Off.” The show runs October 11-28, 2018.

Arias,Orth, Sermol, Crane
Mark and Tracy Photography / Hillbarn Theatre
When things are going from bad to worse backstage in Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Noises Off.” From left are Lawrence-Michael Arias, Heather Orth, Luisa Sermol, and David Crane. The show runs October 11-28, 2018.