Any community theater attempting a production of Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off” deserves a standing ovation before the production even begins.
The split-second comedic timing, the frenetic speed of the action and dialogue, and, of course, the monstrosity of a set that must be flipped at the first intermission from onstage to backstage (and back again at the second intermission) make this a monumental theatrical task, especially on such a small stage as the Belfry in Noblesville.
The play-within-a-play construct makes “Noises Off” a favorite with theater types who get a huge kick out of seeing everything that can possibly go wrong during a theater production (and feel grateful to be in the audience instead of up on the stage participating in the disaster).
The first act of the play begins with a theater troupe rehearsing the British comedy “Nothing On” after midnight on what will be the opening night of the show.
Lines are being dropped; entrances are being missed; doors don’t open; and characters, working together in the spirit of blissful camaraderie, seem barely aware of what’s going on or of the lateness of the hour.
In the second act, we see opening night from a backstage perspective. Cast relations have clearly broken down into animosity, jealousy and misunderstanding, which can happen when all backstage communication has to be done with sign language and gestures during the onstage production.
The third act finds us watching the performance again from the audience perspective, as weeks of being on the road together have obviously taken their toll on the cast.
The Belfry’s adaptation was slow to get started but picked up considerably in the second act.
My guess is that the mad antics of Act II received considerably more rehearsal time, leaving Act I to its slower pace.
Addison Ahrendts drew the first laughs with her tuned-out, “not-in” character of Brooke.
Zachariah Buzan worked hard to create the tongue-tied character of Garry Lejune, and it paid off especially in Acts II and III when Lejune, onstage as Roger — who couldn’t ad lib his way out of a paper bag — stutters and stammers through his dialogue when things start to go wrong.
John Parks Whitaker and Brenna Campbell were outstanding as Frederick Fellowes and Belinda Blair. They established their characters early, and then it was full speed ahead. Their timing and their facial expressions made them a joy to watch.
Kudos to the folks at the Belfry for their ingenious three-part set design, which, although rather plain for an English country mansion, worked well on the small stage.
The crew that dismantled, moved and then reconstructed it did so with efficiency and precision. Well done, men and women in black.
However, the play did seem to lose something without the comedic possibilities of a full staircase for the characters to run up or fall down.
Overall, it was a fun show, full of laughs and so much action that it is worth seeing twice to catch things you might have missed the first time around. “Noises Off” plays through Sunday. Visit thebelfrytheatre.com for more info.