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Noises Off is a door slamming good time

RJ Harris / Mainstream
Whipple’s CenterStage was transformed into a detailed dual stage setting during the recent play Noises Off.

The splendid beauty of detail in UCC’s rendition of award-winning play Noises Off was seen in the doors. Not the overall designs, which are simple in the most drawn-on of ways, but the interaction of doors closing and shutting, timed to the rhythm of the script and the interaction of the actors and actresses. These doors become cogs of a meticulous clock, showing how time in the play moves.
Noises Off was an enriching experience, from a comedic and a logistic standpoint. The set has about eight doors built into it through which characters move in and out during the performance. There is such detail given to their movements, that one slip up could have the entire play ruined (a fact that the characters knowingly allude to several times).
The beginning act shows the performers dwelling within a house, believing themselves alone, while other guests occupy rooms behind closed doors in the same house. The best comedic moments are when one tenant exits the main hall, and a split second later the adjacent door opens as if on a timer, and another actor enters.
The classic play adapted to the small college stage without a hitch. The play within a play entertained and made the audience laugh (think Inception’s dream within a dream style, but without the epic bass pumps and automatic gun fire). Scene one is set the night before the play within the play is due to open; the “actors” are still finding trouble with their play, despite the guidance the “director” is giving. What ensues is a slow-building comedy that offers a look into the makings of a play, from its back-stage dealings to how a director and performers must handle the chaos of an opening night and subsequent performances.
As noted, the doors which make up a good percentage of the stage are used well. The additional props and their meaning add to the comic experience. A prop is placed by one actor, found out by another and taken away, and when the first actor returns the item is gone. Several hilarious instances of this are seen throughout.
Typically, actors and actresses in these types of shows can diminish the overall quality. Thankfully, every actor of the nine present does a fantastic job. Never during the process did I feel an awkward pause or hear a stammering through dialogue. Great care and practice was put in by all involved. Though the script does not call for anything to diversify these actors from comedic sensibilities, their performances are great and funny as needed. There were no characters played too little, and every performer had the opportunity to show off the breadth of their character and their own comedic talents.
For as small a theatre as this was shown in, the dual stages created a believable setting. The entirety of the stage was used to its fullest, whether from the set or from the movement of characters. The set was detailed, with no prop of decoration going to waste throughout the performance. The performers all interacted well with the stage and the theatre at large. Especially impressive were Josh Carlton, who played Frederick Fellows/ Phillip Brent and Ashley Dahl as Brooke Ashton/ Vicki, as both of their voices carried well throughout the theatre, echoing or receding with the changes in their tone of voice.
The simple story, overall, becomes more elaborate as it goes along. As such, the comedy becomes more intricate as well. Much of the laughs stem from the careful placement of objects and the interaction between characters. While the comedy is initially rocky to begin with, once the scenarios form and begin to change for the characters, the play truly shines. There are few moments of witty banter to be had, but much of the comedy is meant to be seen and not heard. The timed release of actors in the first act is amusing to behold, and the play evolves the further the acts progress. The second act is perhaps the best in showing all the detail of the play and the processes involved, as two separate stories are told, one being the first act in the background, while a new backstage story is told before the audience. Here the performers make great use of silent hand gestures to communicate, and the results are surprisingly live with humor. Physical comedy plays into the performance as well, and whether that is someone tumbling down steps, or actors imitating the movements of others, the results are memorable.
Noises Off is, perhaps, the most outstanding play UCC has put on, despite many great productions in the past. Great care and meticulous planning went into this and is clearly evident from all the performers and from the lead of director Stephanie Newman. This was a play not only about laughter, but also about the appreciation of every part of a play production which, en masse, created a fantastic experience.