A fine-tuned noise machine
Two Paradise theaters put together a hilarious rendition of the intricate farce Noises Off
Inside, the Paradise Performing Arts Center is an engineering masterpiece. Walk in any door, and the entire, wide theater is within your field of vision. And the sound! The acoustics of the room are unparalleled in Butte County,.
For this matinee performance of Michael Frayn’s slapstick-happy British farce, Noises Off, the actors would need (and use) the full specs of the room to do justice to this challenging favorite.
Theatre on the Ridge teamed up with its town-mates at the PPAC for this production, and as the huge red curtains were drawn back and the house lights dimmed the choice to use this great room immediately paid grand dividends. The huge set is actually another huge set from a play-within-the-play called Nothing On. This isn’t immediately apparent as the maid, Mrs. Clackett (played by Teresa Hurley), enters the scene of the living room in a large, well-to-do vacation home to answer a telephone. A few moments in, a voice from the audience begins booming back instructions at the actor on stage, and you realize you’re watching a play being rehearsed, and that Clackett is being played by an actress named Dotty Otley. The voice from the dark theater belongs to the play’s beleaguered director, Lloyd Dallas (played boomingly by Bob King). It’s the final dress rehearsal, and this production is nowhere near ready.
Noises Off follows this fake play in three digressive stages. In Act One we see the characters and crew struggling with the rehearsal of this play (a farce in its own right) about the maid, two couples and a burglar all separately trying to take advantage of the supposedly vacant country home while alternately missing and colliding with one another in well-timed entrances and exits. Act Two is a behind-the-scenes look at the company attempting and failing to keep the show together three months into the run, and Act Three is another performance still further along this tour. In this final act, we are the fake audience, watching the metaphorical theatric walls come down as the goings-on behind the scenes eventually completely take over the play out front.
This digression, handled admirably by real director Judy Clemens, brings the dysfunctional cast and crew along patiently in the first act, building up their quirks and idiosyncrasies until we know full well what to expect from each one when ridiculousness ensues.
The payoff for this patience begins to surface as Act One ends. When Act Two begins (with the entire, stage-sized set turned around, exposing the backstage area), the surface has begun to burst and bubble over. The one-character-goes-in-one-door-as-the-other-comes-out-another slapstick taking place on the stage of the fake play begins to blend with the who’s-sleeping-with-whom hijinks occurring backstage until the inevitable noisy explosion in the final act.
Clothes come off everyone at some point or another, as the different characters try to hold things together while the others are pulling it apart. And sardines. Sardines are everywhere!
Each player is committed to his or her role in both plays (it’s mind-boggling that the actors could keep the ins and outs straight from so many angles), throwing themselves into both until things fall to pieces in this tour de farce.
If pressed, I’d say Don Owens’ seamless sad-sack actor Frederick Fellows, who constantly admits to being stupid at everything and instantly gets a bloody nose when acts of violence occur near him, is especially endearing. But the standout, with the brilliant timing of his physical comedy, is the bumbling actor Garry Lejune (playing Roger Trampelmain), played by Rich Holst with a perfect blend of airheadedness ("It’s just that … you know?") and daring physicality.
If any of the great television farces—I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show or even, more recently, Will and Grace—are remotely funny to you, do not hesitate. This is up there with the best. There’s only one weekend left.