In 'Noises Off,' Jeremy Shamos just lets his funny bones knock around
NEW YORK >> In one of the best entrances on Broadway this season, Jeremy Shamos appears onstage and slams a door behind him.
It refuses to close, so he slams it again. And again. And again and again. For a total of some two dozen times, multiplying the hilarity with each futile, demented attempt.
"Because I'm a little dim, I keep doing it harder and harder," said Shamos, with a laugh. "It's a good start."
To be clear, Shamos isn't the dim one. It's his character in "Noises Off" — the character Frederick Fellowes, an insecure, overthinking actor who gets a nosebleed at the first hint of violence and always needs to know his motivation.
The play, written by Michael Frayn, is about a second-rate touring company that desperately tries to put aside its internal squabbles to perform a ludicrous sex farce in the hinterlands of England in 1979.
The forgetful older actor is drunk. The leading lady continually forgets her plate of sardines. The director is pursuing simultaneous affairs with both the underwear-clad ingenue and the stage manager, one of whom is secretly pregnant.
Shamos, a Tony Award nominee for "Clybourne Park" who has been on "Nurse Jackie" and "Better Call Saul," is known for his intelligence and subtlety, none of which he shares with Frederick: His pants fall down, he gets nosebleeds, gets glued to a plate of sardines and falls flat on his face.
That intrigued the actor. "I was really ready to do something physical again," he said. "It's a perfect opportunity to sort of let my funny bones knock around."
"Noises Off" begins with the rehearsal of a farce, with forgotten lines, missed entrances and general confusion. In the second act, we watch from backstage as the actors improvise through jealousies and pranks.
The final act is the last, abysmal performance. Whatever can go wrong does go wrong: Cues are missed, someone's shoelaces are tied together and contact lenses are lost.
Shamos is among a top-notch cast, including Andrea Martin, Tracee Chimo, Kate Jennings Grant, David Furr, Megan Hilty, Daniel Davis, Rob McClure and Campbell Scott. The show, produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, opened to raves this month at the American Airlines Theatre.
A visit backstage showed loose and happy cast members, joking and hugging. During the show, they gather at backstage monitors simply to watch their colleagues doing favorite bits.
Some secrets to the farce: The sardines are really just fishing lures with their hooks removed, Shamos' pants have washers sewn in to weigh them down and a stage manager lurks out of sight to help keep doors open in case they shut when they're not supposed to.
Shamos is cool as a cucumber during the show, even while rushing with pants around his ankles or dabbing fake blood on his nose. "Dignity! Dignity!" he jokingly mouthed at one point to his assistants as they pumped smoke into his pants.
The insanity onstage is tightly choreographed and allows little room for improvisation. One door slam is another person's cue and messing around with a plate of sardines might not make a gag work two scenes later.
During one performance, Shamos somehow got his head inside the bucket — pure comedy gold — but couldn't goof around too much because his character had to remain serious — and mortified.
"A man with his head in a bucket still has some integrity," he explained.
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