"Noises Off" February 1996
By Michael Frayn, Directed by Michael Sturm
From The Daily World Monday, February 16, 1996
This outrageous comedy gives audiences a jocular behind-the-scenes peek at the stage-acting world.
Even if slapstick isn't your thing, English playwright Michael Frayn's comedy will likely get you rolling.
If it's not the squished fingers and toes and dropped pants, it might be the flying phone or the scantily clad prima donna's prancing around the stage. Frayn's script, written in the early 1980s, has moments that should crack even the crustiest cynic.
The farce opened last Saturday night at the Driftwood Theatre in Aberdeen and continues through March 3. Under the direction of seasoned Harbor dramatist Michael Sturm, "Noises Off" features a good cast and a well-planned set.
It's a play within a play in which the action follows a troupe of present-day actors as it performs a mediocre sex farce called "Nothing On." The first act opens with the final dress rehearsal before opening night. Romances and personalities of the characters are revealed, setting the scene for the madness to come.
The second act is set backstage a month later at a matinee performance. Romance has eroded and relationships are strained as the actors make - and miss - their entrances. Hilarious sequences, based on misunderstanding and varied neurosis, ensue.
In Act Three, the cast has been touring for two months. Clearly enthusiasm for the material - and one another - has cooled. At this point the players could care less what happens or who sees it happen - including the audience.
Because of its hilarious script, "Noises Off" is a sure bet for a director if he is able to assemble an energetic cast able to master comic timing. The play has been a major hit for the last decade, playing from the tiniest community theaters to the stages of Broadway and London.
Driftwood's cast convincingly portrays the stumbling, bumbling bunch of second-rate actors - a feat that takes some discipline and polish on the part of director and crew.
Every actor I talked to said this play is the toughest they've done. Having read the script before attending Driftwood's performance, I understand why.
Frayn weaves a complicated chain of events that is just convoluted enough to be hilariously funny to watch. On paper, however, "Noises Off" is a complex puzzle filled with stage directions and mixed on-stage and off-stage dialogue.
I've seen "Noises Off" twice previously and had seen the movie before, so I pretty much knew what to expect when I attended the dress rehearsal last week. Driftwood's players managed to make the play fresh for me with performances that made the familiar jokes funny again.
"Noises Off" requires agile actors due to its physical challenges and complexity. There is a great deal of running and tripping - including a painful-looking tumble down a staircase by The Daily World's own Stefano Esposito - which requires a cast able and willing to sacrifice comfort and decorum. Sturm's company seems to meet the physical challenge, enduring the abuse with poise while appearing not to.
There's no dead weight in this cast. Even actors in the smaller roles of the dottering has-been Selsdon Mowbray (Dave Foscue), and stage hands Tim Allgood and Poppy Norton-Taylor (Ted Spoon and Lori Stangland), took advantage of their characters' moments in the spotlight.
Roger Nelson does a great job as the wimpy fob, Frederick Fellowes. Nelson schools the audience in low self-esteem, bleeding from the nose with panic at a hint of violence and delivering timely facial contortions coupled with shuffling, clumsy feet.
Gary Morean and Esposito also distinguish themselves with deft performances. Morean handles the part of the egotistical, womanizing director Lloyd Dallas with bullish charm and Esposito is hilariously frenetic as the jealousy-crazed Garry LeJune.
Margaret Tingwall and Jane Hansen are also solid in their parts as Dotty Otley and Belinda Blair respectively. Tingwall is well-cast as the mischievous "older woman," and Hansen is convincing as the only apparently-sane character in the play.
Credit goes out also to newcomer Tammera Novy for talking on the part of Brooke Ashton. The role requires Novy to spend most of the play on stage in a white teddy.
Overall, it's a very good production. And while "Noises Off" isn't going to arouse a sleeping political interest inside you, it should make you laugh and bring some joy to a dreary February night.
From The Daily World Monday, February 5, 1996
Actors are by nature a supremely self-centered group of human beings - people whose egos require continual massage.
For the actor, true happiness is not measured in material wealth or physical well-being, but by the frequency and volume of the applause.
No applause, and the actor experiences feelings of rejection akin to those a small child might feel if his mother suddenly banished him from the house. But bring on an audience where grandmothers with purple rinses leap to their feet when the curtain falls and grown men weep unashamedly, and the actor will go to bed a contented man.
All of this comes to mind as I, an actor myself (albeit an under-appreciated one), prepare for the opening night of "Noises Off," the Driftwood Players' latest theatrical offering in Aberdeen.
I thought it might be useful to remind veteran theater-goers (as well as the hordes of drama neophytes who will encircle the theater Saturday night in the hopes of getting a ticket) of the critical role they play in keeping the actor's fragile ego intact.
Let's call it Theater Etiquette 101:
While rapturous applause is welcome at almost any time during the show, verbal approval is not. Upon seeing a friend or relative make a stage entrance, don't be tempted to yell, "Hey, Stef, it's your Uncle Bob come all the way from Sequim to see you!"
Apart from the fact that this outburst immediately identifies you as an inhabitant of a cultural void, you have now succeeded in temporarily becoming the center of attention.
This must be avoided at all costs. An actor deprived of the limelight is like a toddler who has just had his favorite toy yanked from his hands - a tantrum is only moments away.
The same rules about talking apply to noisy fits of coughing. If you are susceptible to this most irritating of habits, bring along a large supply of industrial-strength lozenges. If the hacking cough persists, slink out of the theater, all the while mouthing silent words of apology to those who are unable to see the stars as you pass in front of their seats.
But remember, the "show must go on," so your own death by choking is preferable to a prolonged break in the performance.
Strictly speaking, only those who suffer from incurable bouts of narcolepsy may be excused from obeying the "no-dozing-off-in-the-middle-of-a-performance", rule.
Unfortunately, large numbers of men - perhaps browbeaten by their wives into coming to the theater - think it's perfectly acceptable to have a snooze in the stalls.
Of course, it goes without saying that you only make yourself look foolish when, with head tipped back and large hairy nostrils pointed to the ceiling, a strange swine-like noise begins reverberating throughout the theater.
But more importantly, you distract the intensely focused actors, and if there's an accompanying orchestra, don't be surprised if the conductor prods you violently with his baton because the musicians are unable to tune their instruments.
AND NOW comes the final test. The above rules are merely a warm up for what you now must face: the post-performance encounter with the actors. It is the greatest test of a theater-goers mettle and requires almost as great a performance as those you have just witnessed on stage.
An inappropriate word or obviously feigned remark about how "wonderful" he or she was can spoil everything you have worked so hard to achieve while sitting in the darkness.
Needless to say, your ineptness may also destroy an actor's sense of self-worth and his or her budding career.
Choose your words carefully. Practice what you plan to say at home when you have a moment to yourself. For those who are truly dedicated to the art of actor adoration, you might even consider taking an acting class.
And if you are bold enough to suggest to an actor that his or her performance was truly mesmerizing, be able to back it up. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the following situation: "So you though I was 'magnificent.' Interesting that you should say that, but, honestly, what specifically did you find so gripping about my acting?" Pause, "well, I...." Longer pause, "well, um...." But if you come to the "Green Room" fully prepared to fend off an actor's probing questions, you might try this fail-safe approach:
"I don't know whether anyone has ever told you this before, but in a certain light you bear an uncanny resemblance to (Choose an extraordinarily good-looking actor with lots of talent, but not Keanu Reeves), and when you delivered (Such and such a line) it was so understated yet so incredibly powerful."
You might even throw in the names of a couple of obscure but highly regarded playwrights as you discuss the tone of the play.
But don't - and this is crucial - mention any of the other actors in the play. Despite all this mumbo jumbo about acting being a "collaborative effort," the actor only cares about how he or she looked on stage.
NOW, after it's all over and you walk out into the cool evening air, feel proud - you have preserved the actor's delicate ego (at least until the next show), while simultaneously earning an "A" in theater Etiquette 101.
But although you have given a worthy performance, don't start having delusions of grandeur. Remember your place. There is only so much room on the stage.
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