All the worlds a stage, and the men and women merely players, Shakespeare posited in As You Like It. With a self-aware wink, The Bard oft used actors and theater itself as both device and metaphor in his plays.
So, its fitting that Noises Off, Michael Frayns broad farce about a British theater companys ill-fated traveling production of a farce titled Nothing On should be the season closer.
Noises Off opened this weekend and will play through September. (Remember, as the daylight wanes in the fall, shows start at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.)
The play is a wild ride a stair-climbing roller coaster of pratfalls, door slams, missed cues, flubbed lines and sardines, all done on purpose as this company of itinerant actors progresses through its tour.
Its a play in three acts so there are two intermissions, which may be a bit unusual for ISF audiences.
Frayns play tells the story of this company of actors from both sides of the set.
The first act is the disastrous final rehearsal for the broad bedroom farce Nothing On. The second act is midway through the tour. We find out the farce backstage is bigger than the one on stage. In the third act, the two worlds collide in the final performance of this tour of hardscrabble industrial English towns.
Friday nights preview was thoroughly enjoyable. That doesnt mean there werent a few problems.
The timing felt a bit slow in the beginning as the company got the play up and running for the first time with an audience. By the second act, a hot, dry wind whipped up Jeff Herrmanns set, sending curtains flying and doors opening when they were not supposed to. It both helped and hindered the performance. Helped because it put the actual actors in the same situation as the characters contending with a force out of their control. Hindered because it made it harder to hear the actors. But they took it all in stride, letting the unexpected snags add to the farcical madness. Performing in Noises Off must be like being in a reality TV show about a touring company because it is very close to the real experience of a certain level and genre of professional theater.
Director Gordon Reinhart orchestrated his company of actors a mix of ISF stalwarts and newcomers in a precise ballet of comedy.
Its set affectionately in the 1970s, which provides wonderful opportunities for costume designer Darin Pufall to revive the looks of the decade from a loud magenta bell-bottomed pantsuit, to a rather tasteful midi-skirt, to a sleazy honeydew melon leisure suit. The latter becomes a terrific prop for Shad Willingham as Frederick Fellows. In the tradition of the genre, he has trouble keeping the pants on. (I personally delighted in the Barry Manilow tunes that end each act.)
The actors are wonderful at filling out these broad, wacky character archetypes: Lloyd (Richard Klautsch), the lecherous director who thinks hes above it all; Brooke (Betsy Mugavero), the bombshell ingenue who spends much of her time in lingerie shes having a thing with Lloyd; Poppy (Jessica Bates), the girl-next-door stage manager who also is having a thing with Lloyd. Dotty Otley (Lynn Allison), the aging star who self- produced the show for one last hurrah she had a thing with Lloyd once and now is having one with everyone else; Belinda (Kathryn Cherasaro), who probably had a thing with Lloyd at one time and now just tries to keep the show together with a smile; Frederick (Willingham), the leading man who has frequent nosebleeds, faints at the sight of his own blood and constantly questions his motivation; Garry (Christopher Williams), the stuttering supporting player who has a thing for Dotty; Selsdon (Stitch Marker), the old boozehound whom the company tries to keep dry during the performances; and Tim (Luke Massengill), the overworked stage manager, jack of all trades and understudy.
Klautsch has some delightful emotional outbursts as Lloyd explodes with frustration. Willingham has some truly wonderful comic moments, like when he gets himself glued to a plate of sardines and loses his pants.
Williams also gets some great physical moments as Garry becomes crazed with jealousy over Dotty and takes a tumble down the stairs.
Allison is in fine form as Otley, who gets more disheveled as the tour goes on. Cherasaro does the lions share of running up and down the backstage stairs, trying to salvage the show.
The production is sure to become fine-tuned with every performance. Its definitely a show you can see more than once for that reason.
NOTE: There is some strong language (which the company will modify for family night), adult themes and sexual innuendo.
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland