November 05, 2005

Noises off!

Kathy will be jealous: I saw the Knox mainstage production of Noises Off! tonight.

Unfortunately, despite my eager anticipation, they didn't make use of the fact that Harbach's stage rotates (due to the fact that the proscenium side has extra rows of seating). Too bad. On the other hand, the set they did use was pretty damn impressive; it was a single enormous wagon that took ten people to rotate between acts. Each rotation actually garnered applause from the audience. And it was solidly built, with each of the seven doors being heavy wood doors that closed with a satisfying ka-clunk (that is, when they weren't closing with a satisfying slam). Of course, the set layout is the same one in every other production of the show, since nearly everything about the set is plot-crucial, even moreso than in most English farces. Still, it was quite impressive.

Other technical work was decent if not overwhelming. Of course, the real goal of the techie is to make you not notice their work, and in that sense the, say, lighting design was good (hi Chelsea!). The costuming was fine, although several of the skirts and dresses just didn't appear to fit and flow right. The makeup was overdone, as usual; this seems to be a running thing for Harbach mainstage shows that use the front of the thrust stage, where the actors are much too close to the audience to be able to count on bright stage lights washing out their faces. I could see distinct lines---and not just chin lines---on nearly all the actors' faces. :P

The three acts of the show take place in very different contexts, and I found that different actors did better in each one. In the first act, the most normal of the three, with the company in rehearsal, the action was establishing the characters both of the actor-character (i.e. the actors being played in Noises off) and of the character-characters (i.e. the characters the Noises off actor-characters are playing in the play-within-play entitled Nothing on). In terms of line delivery, Doug Porter and Nathan Thompson stood out most here, Doug for his pouting and fainting as Frederick (Phillip) and Nathan for his delightfully understated wit as the director. Many of the others seemed to have trouble slipping into their inconsistent array of British accents, or were overplaying their character a bit too much. (Although as far as that goes, Mikah Berky seemed at first like the worst offender, but in retrospect that may have just been a reasonable interpretation of Belinda.)

They made up for it later, though. Act two is a ballet of sorts, in the "shhh!" backstage of the show in actual production. It's got to be incredibly tricky to pull off, because even without actors saying lines to draw attention to the action, the audience still needs to be able to follow what's going on. Morgan Cohen (Dotty) really took over here, I thought, successfully turning up the volume on her body language so we could hear it way out in the audience. I wish I could see the whole show, and especially act two, about a hundred times; even knowing more or less what was going on, it was very hard to remember where to look next. And the action moves around a lot, handing off a hatchet, a cactus, three bouquets, and a fifth of jack between all the various actors making their entrances and exits, and unable to carry these items onstage with them. (Morgan reportedly used a pedometer and clocked her movement during act two alone at over a mile and a half. I can believe it!) Even with the fairly precise instructions in the script correlating the offstage and onstage action, choreographing it all to the specific set and props, and making it work, is a really impressive bit of ensemble work, with credit due to Doc Bob and all the actors for managing it.

It's too bad that the show has to go on to act three. It's definitely the weakest act as written, and it's hard to sustain the energy to the end of the show after things completely fall apart. Still, these guys did good work with what they were given. In this act, I think Meghan Reardon as Brooke (Vicki) did her best work, playing an actor-character who's sort of an ingenue playing a character-character who's sort of an ingenue, but who is at this point more with it than most everyone else. She keeps dragging the show on, kicking and screaming, even as nothing goes right and everyone else gets flustered. Evan Sawdey deserves extra special mention for an amazing fall that seems like it could not possibly have been just a stage fall, and which appeared to pose a real danger of snapping off a bannister. I found myself checking whether he was breathing.... Doug also gets a mention in this act, since I wrote down what a great, smooth pratfall he'd executed over some slippery sardines, but it appears from some post-show consultation that this part was, ah, not exactly in the script. Nice recovery, though. :) And throughout the cast, the actors kept deceiving me into thinking they were doing some really good ad-lib recovery for mistakes, e.g. when Morgan laments forgetting the sardine, espies the plate sitting on the end table, and exclaims, "Oh! No, I didn't! ... I'll go make myself another plate, to celebrate!" Of course, I reminded myself, they were scripted to do so. (That's good acting too, though!)

This show is the ultimate meta show. The action occurs, and is funny, on so many levels, it makes your brain hurt. And boy howdy does it ever make you laugh. I have not been to a production of anything here at Knox that had the audience so riled up as this one. Being a fairly loud and rowdy laugher myself, I was happy to not have to keep it bottled up for a change. Now I just wish I hadn't had stuff all the other nights it was on; I really should have come to see it at least a few times. Maybe I can speed back from Urbana tomorrow night and catch it then (7:30 in Harbach, if you're in town---don't miss it!).

"Povsyuda idu, iz Londona do "da Bay," I vsegda "Hammer idi, Hammer yo, Hammer M.C. Hammer, I drugiye mogut idti igrat'!" --as translated by Mike Peil

Posted by blahedo at 1:25am on 5 Nov 2005
Thanks for noticing! I was particularly proud of my flickering sconces. ;) I hear you - I never did quite warm up to Belinda and I'm sure that a lot of the fault for that lies in the Script; the "loves" really started to get to me after a few reherals. The more I watched it, the more aware I became of how structured the chaos really is. And how (imho) Dotty's the one that holds the show together, especially in the third act. "It's like a funeral in here..." Posted by Chelsea at 12:24am on 7 Nov 2005
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