What I learned. . .

A director friend once told me, “Now that I’ve directed Noises Off, nothing will scare me again.”  Getting to work on Michael Frayn’s sublime farce, is a director’s lesson in craft – as well as a lesson in a certain kind of bravery. Staging the play is such a great exercise in clear, precise story-telling. Often I found myself telling the actors, “if you’ve got to pass the bottle from point ‘a’ to point ‘b’, you’ve really got to pass the bottle. . .  arc it higher, let our eyes spot the action. . . the audience will be lost if they don’t know how or when the bottle got to point ‘b’.”

This was my second time to direct the play, and I was able to build on what I remembered from my first time in the ring with this hysterical, challenging piece of writing at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Again: most of that had to do with how high to arc the bottle.  Or the sardines.  Or the flowers.  Or the axe. 

We had a short rehearsal schedule, made all the tighter by my late arrival in Lancaster from the Midwest, where the production of Duet for One I directed for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, had previewed two days before I started rehearsals for Noises Off.  Fortunately, Marc Robin had been entirely amendable to letting me come late and to casting actors (save one) with whom I had worked before (fortunately, he liked them all when they came in to audition). And everyone attacked the work with the same sense of “we’re going to work very, very hard – and we’re going to have a lot of fun in the bargain.”  Which we did. (It would be impossible not to work hard and have fun when you’ve got Jane Ridley leading the corps as Dottie Otley – but everyone kept apace with Jane, and everyone always managed to say “yes” . . . to be real problem solvers, each and every step – or pratfall – of the way.)

This coupled with wonderful designers (I always admire a set designer who’s willing to design a set that actually looks cheap and cheesey. . .  I’ve taken exception to other productions of the play I’ve seen in which there was no credible way the “Nothing On” set could have been designed and built on the budget the errant traveling troupe must have put together – let alone be able to tour the provinces for weeks and months. . .), and it was great fun to figure out once again the tracking of all those sheets and all those sheiks.

I can think of few better ways to spend a number of hours of your life than laughing the way we get to laugh when we work on this play.  Thank you, Michael Frayn; thanks Marc Robin; thanks Fulton staff and design team; thank you Jane, Bryan, Zack, Christopher, Tarah, Deanne, Nick, David, and Chelsey.  Could not have had a better time.

Noises Off

Fulton Theatre

March, 2010

Jane Ridley, Deanne Lorette,

Zachary Michael Fine, David Graham Jones,

Bryan Humphrey, Chelsey Whitelock Hawkins,

Tarah Flanagan, Christopher Gerson

“Imagine a Carol Burnett sketch taken to the 10th power: Or “The Benny Hill Show” at its most demented.  Now wrap that around a plot that revolves around errant plates of sardines.  And slamming doors.  And dropped trousers.  That sums up Noises Off, a new Fulton Theatre production that will save you the air fare to London to catch British farce at its most manic.

Michael Frayn’s stage hit, which has been playing on both sides of the pond since its 1982 debut, offered an appreciative Fulton audience a double treat in its Thursday night premiere.  Noises Off is about the disastrous staging of a second-rate sex farce, “Nothing On,” so it’s really two plays in one.  The idea is that what goes on behind the curtain is funnier than what’s on stage, and Noises Off delivered in that capacity, if the reaction at the Fulton was any indication.

The small cast is in fine form, and it’s a good thing there are only nine players.  They generate enough energy – and mayhem – to more than fill the stage. (One wouldn’t want to see 20 people trying to pull off this sort of thing.)

Noises Off is funny, but it’s also exhausting in a way that’s good for the audience, but no doubt a perpetual challenge for its stars.  “Stars” is the word here because everybody gives their equal, each in their own way.

Comedy is many things to many people, and Noises Off isn’t a showcase of with or sophistication.  Noel Coward it isn’t.  Slapstick and pratfalls abound, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  It’s play-within-the-play, “Nothing On,” might be the most ill-fated evening of theater ever staged, but Noises Off delivers a far happier outcome, one reflected in an oening night that indicates the Fulton could very well have a hit on its hands.”

     Stephen Kopfinger

     Lancaster News

“Slamming doors, mistaken identities and people doing things they shouldn’t be doing.  These are all classic ingredients of a farce, the theatrical comedy style that tells you to leave your brains at the door and get ready to laugh.  Noises Off, which opened at the Fulton Thursday, adds one delicious element to all those farcical ingredients: actors.

Director Paul Barnes allows his cast to have fun with broad British accents and a lot of very good physical humor.  If you’re a farce fan, you should have a grand time.

The actual cast of Noises Off looks as if theyre having a lot of fun as the mayhem swirls around them.  And if you put your brains away, you will too.”

     Jane Holahan

     New Erie Intelligence News