Throughout the school year, Fairfax Extra publishes occasional reviews of high school shows written by student critics under the guidance of faculty mentors as part of the Critics and Awards Program, also known as Cappies. Now in its seventh season, the program recognizes the achievements of young performers, writers, directors and stage crews. For information, visit www.cappies.com.

Sardines! Plate after plate of sardines were carried, marched, slid, thrown, dropped and trampled. Cruelty to fish, even dead ones, is rarely endorsed, but in Centreville High School's recent production of "Noises Off," it was a work of comic genius that left the audience roaring with laughter.

The plot of Michael Frayn's play is simple enough: six actors, one director and two stage managers are struggling to keep the play they're performing, "Nothing On," from falling to pieces during its tour. The actors are dating each other, the director is dating everyone and one stage manager is trying to tell him that she's pregnant. Over the course of three acts, we watch as "Nothing On" falls apart and the people involved in it start to need therapy desperately.

Comic timing can make or break a show like this, and the Centreville cast had it down to an art. With a dizzying number of entrances and exits, they never once messed up -- when they weren't supposed to, anyway. Overall, the production had that air of frenzied panic that makes slapstick work.

The performers created fully functional characters and then destroyed them in the funniest way possible. Doug Watkins, as Lloyd, started out as a self-assured jerk with complete control over the actors and then slipped into madness along with the rest. Natalie Carneal, as Dotty, carried around phone receivers and obsessed amusingly about the sardines. As Freddy, David Barchet was adorable, suffering nosebleeds at the very thought of violence. Tande Berry, as Poppy, was a delightful sobbing mess, and Nate Betancourt, as a stage manager, was a persuasive sleep-deprived fix-it man.

As Brooke, Sarah Langan was ditzy and sweet, showing incredible ease at being in front of a full house while wearing lingerie. Mary Caitlin Barrett, as Belinda, showed an iron will; Mickey DeVito, as Garry, was hilarious as he mercilessly exacted his revenge. Jamal Crowelle, as Selsdon, was appropriately one-sided as a semi-deaf drunkard who needed to be reminded of his cues and lines.

"Noises Off" is a popular show, and it's easy to see why. You would be hard-pressed to find another high school production as well-timed or with as much chemistry as Centreville's. The actors fit their roles and brought a pinch of realism to the larger-than-life world of comedy, along with a bucket of slapstick and a complete lack of the typical high school fear: "But won't I look stupid?"

Joanna Gibson

Fairfax High School

"Noises Off" is a comedy of errors about a mediocre theater company whose production rapidly deteriorates as dramatic scandals and artistic tensions entangle its actors. The nine members of Centreville High School's cast, with the energy of a full ensemble, provoked nearly continuous laughs from the audience.

Successfully performing Michael Frayn's play is difficult, requiring careful comedic timing and a fast pace. The physical comedy has to be quick, elaborate and often wild, and Centreville's actors completed it with seemingly effortless grace.

Each actor developed specific traits and habits for their characters, both in the actual show and in their roles in "Nothing On," the play within the play. As Dotty, Natalie Carneal illustrated the decline of the actors' emotional states with priceless facial expressions. As Lloyd, the director of the show, Doug Watkins's expressions of rage and fits of sarcasm could have been confused with insanity.

Although all the performers were hilarious, Sarah Langan stood out as Brooke, a ditzy beauty blissfully unaware and easily confused. Langan's innocently seductive air was portrayed through her flailing body movements and caw-like voice. Whenever her character lost a contact lens, a frequent occurrence, Langan's hilarious blind stumbling drew lots of laughter. The cast succeeded in portraying real people whose flaws were completely exposed on stage.

"Noises Off" demands a rotating set: one side for the show, the other for the backstage area. Centreville's set, created by Matt Karrenbauer, worked well. The various doors, aligned on two levels, provided several means of entrance and exit. This maintained the confusing nature of the show and provided much physical and visual comedy. The second act, which features the cast backstage during a performance, draws most of its comedy from physical interactions between fighting cast members, their props and the intricate set.

In short, Centreville's "Noises Off" was a wonderful mess.

Meaghan Hynes

St. Albans School

and National Cathedral School

Centreville High School cast members rehearse Michael Frayn's popular comedy "Noises Off." From left are Natalie Carneal as Dotty, Mickey DeVito as Garry and Sarah Langan as Brooke.