Sometimes in theater, the most difficult challenge for an actor can be separating the onstage drama from the backstage drama. In Michael Frayn's 1983 farce "Noises Off," performed recently by McLean High School, the consequences of an entire cast becoming embroiled in such a scenario were brought to light under a backdrop of slamming doors and falling trousers.

"Noises Off" was two plays: a traditional British sex farce called "Nothing On" and the backstage drama that developed during the production's final rehearsal and subsequent tour. The two plays began to interlock as various members of the cast were entangled in love triangles and director Lloyd Dallas (well played by Marshall Finch) tried to prevent the show from lurching uncontrollably into oblivion. At the disastrous final performance, the two dramas coalesced into a single, riotously funny nervous breakdown onstage.

The play depended on precise comic timing and slapstick comedy, and McLean's talented cast was more than up to the challenge. James Taube was hilarious as the extremely temperamental male lead, Garry Lejeune. Taube's wonderfully expressive face and good vocal range created a character more inclined to speak with his fists than his words. Vanessa Fontana did splendid work as Belinda Blair, one of the two women at the heart of the romantic shenanigans whose transformation from a doting, level-headed woman to a jealous, deranged harpy was one of the play's highlights. Tom Avis stole every scene he was in as Selsdon, the elderly icon of the company with a strong affinity for whiskey. Although some lines were lost in the heat of the action, members of the ensemble as a whole played off each other well.

The technical side of the show was solid, with excellent props creating a charming British country home. Virtually every line was heard. The remarkable set could be disassembled and rotated in minutes, as the second act dictated. One minor difficulty was in the staging; at times, so much was going on at once that individual moments fell by the wayside.

Nevertheless, this delightful production entertained throughout, proving that the bedroom farce is alive and well in theater.

Will Cooper

T.C. Williams High School

The British may have their tea and crumpets, but first they had sardines. Those tiny delicacies were just one of the many quirky elements of McLean High School's sidesplitting production of "Noises Off."

Marvelous mayhem, onstage and off, abounded in this nonsensical comedy of a play within a play. Lloyd Dallas (Marshall Finch), a pithy director, and his cockeyed cast tried to pull together their production of "Nothing On." It didn't work; from the dress rehearsal to the closing performance, dropped lines and props plagued the stage in a way that made the director want to drop kick the entire cast. While Lloyd Dallas and Brooke Ashton (Stephanie Bachula) could not keep their hands off each other, Dotty Otley (Caitlin McCormick) and Garry Lejeune (James Taube) could not wait to get their hands on each other. The bumbling Selsdon Mowbray (Tom Avis) turned up missing, and although the cast could not find some actors, they certainly could always find the sardines.

From his hilarious quips to his delightful facial expressions, Tom Avis used his comical genius to enliven the doddering and slightly senile Selsdon Mowbray. As the unintelligible Garry Lejeune, James Taube demonstrated his perfect sense of comedic timing and mastery of the art of physical comedy. From his pratfall down a flight of stairs to his humorous gesticulations, each wag of his hand was a laugh and a half. In this ensemble piece, the overwhelming talent of each actor created the synergy of the show. Whether it was the frantic, flustered moments of Belinda Blair (Vanessa Fontana) or Dotty's dotty remarks and sardine scenarios, the laughter was nonstop as each cast member lent his or her own comedic piquancy to the fast-paced farce.

The dual-sided set designed by Joshua Gibson and Patrick Quinn was the perfect vehicle for the slapstick comedy. From slamming doors to well-trodden stairs, the characters correctly stated that the house seemed alive, almost acting as another character in the play. Melody Ain's perfect props served as ideal accents to the farcical humor. With each scene change from onstage to backstage, the audience got a 360-degree view of riotous comedy at its best.

Lauren Abramson

T.C. Williams High School

Vanessa Fontana (Belinda), left, Stephanie Bachula (Brooke) and Patrick Barrett (Freddie) rehearse for McLean High School's production of "Noises Off."