by Bruce Strand, Arts editor
“Noises Off,” an uproarious, door-slamming, pants-falling-down comedy about a theatrical production unraveling, had its first four showings at Zabee Theatre last weekend and will conclude with performances Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m.
A small audience opening night was rocking back and forth in laughter, whistling and cheering at the furiously-paced yet meticulously-choreographed action in the three-act, Elk River Community Theatre production, directed by Eileen Anderson. If you’re looking for some laughs you might find this a good night out.
This yarn by Michael Frayn was written as a play within a play, with the idea that behind-the-scenes can be a lot funnier than what’s on the stage. It’s set in Des Moines although Frayn’s original story was set in his native England.
A second-rate theatrical troupe is bumbling toward opening night off Broadway, under the direction of an increasingly exasperated Lloyd Dallas (Michael Conrad), who, the audience is delightfully surprised to learn, is sitting among them, yelling directions at the stage.
The cast members are forgetful fading star Dotty Otley (Deidra Ann), scatter-brained and short-tempered Garry Lejuene (Jonathan Rehlander), easily-frightened and nosebleed-prone Frederick Fellows (Paul C. Olson), air-headed and amorous leading lady Brooke Ashton (Emily Bowersox), cheerful and reliable Belinda Blair (Kristina Roe), and an aging alcoholic who keeps wandering off, Selsdon Mawbray (Denny Chuba).
Behind the scenes are overworked stage manager Tim Allgood (Cullen Corott) and oversensitive, jealous script girl Poppy Norton-Taylor (Sarah Rabe). Smaller parts are stage hand Casey Quinn (Leita Ro Strei), sound guy Neil (Frank Star) and props girl Felicity (Alyssa Rae).
The story opens with the final dress rehearsal for a rather sexy farce called “Nothing On” with the cast still forgetting lines, missing cues, and mishandling props. Lloyd is reduced to cajoling, yelling at, and pleading with them to get things right. Complicating matters are personal problems and backstage relationships that have fostered jealousy and petty squabbling.
The second act in particular is pure bedlam as jealousies erupt with full-gallop chase scenes, fights breaking out, an axe being brandished, hilarious pantomiming, and all the guys’ pants dropping to their ankles. Eight doors on the two-story set are constantly opening and shutting with frantic actors bursting in or out out. Roe in particular handles a very physical role with aplomb as she runs the stage like Adrian Peterson when not breaking up fights.
All this mayhem takes place in silence backstage (hence the silent-film-like pantomiming) because “Noises Off” (backstage noises) would spoil the play the audience is watching on the other side, which the audience can hear, and glimpse through a window. The ERCT group somehow manages to keep all this action well-paced and flowing, a remarkable feat of choreography.