Noises Off

Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV Presents Noises Off Apr. 29 - May 8

The Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV is proud to present Michael Frayn's Noises Off, April 29 - May 8 in the Judy Bayley Theatre as part of the Main Stage Season. Kenn McLeod directs.

Called the funniest farce ever written, Noises Off returned to Broadway in 2001 with a cast that included Patti LuPone and Peter Gallagher as a manic menagerie of itinerant actors rehearsing a flop called Nothing's On. Rated PG.

The NCT cast includes Tracy Lore as Dotty Otley; Douglas Hill as Lloyd Dallas; Michael Thatcher as Garry Lejeune; Melody Wilson as Brooke Ashton; Nicole Unger as Poppy Norton-Taylor; Alan Dronek as Frederick Fellows; Dhyana Dahl as Belinda Blair; John Maltese as Tim Allgood; and Michael Tylo as Selsdon Mowbray.


Dates of performance:

Apr 29, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre
Apr 30, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre
May 1, 2 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre
May 5, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre
May 6, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre
May 7, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre
May 8, 2 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre

Info on tickets, directions etc.: Performing Arts Center, UNLV or call 702-895-2787.

Gang of goofballs attempts to create comic chaos in Nevada Conservatory Theatre's 'Noises Off'

Got migraine meds?

"I've got actors playing characters who are actors playing characters."

Toss in another actor playing a director who is directing the actor characters playing other characters in a play within a play directed by the director quoted above and, well

Give Kenn McLeod an Excedrin tablet. Or six.

"I can always go back to the script and just rub it on my face," McLeod says at the Judy Bayley Theatre just before coaching his actors to perfect a scene in which the actors they play screw up a scene. "I have to think, 'It's all going to happen.' "

Alice-through-the-looking-glass farce is the calling card of "Noises Off," the dizzy 1982 comedy of chaos (cue frantic characters and slamming doors) about a loopy troupe of bickering actors touring in a sex comedy that Nevada Conservatory Theatre will stage at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, opening this weekend.

"They're all very eccentric and all drawn from the theater firmament," McLeod says about the characters of "Noises Off," which was hatched in 1970 when British playwright Michael Frayn was in the wings watching a performance of "Chinamen," a farce he had written for the late Lynn Redgrave.

"It was funnier from behind than in front," Frayn said in notes to "Noises Off," whose title refers to a theatrical direction for sounds that are meant to originate offstage. "I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind."

Simplified -- "simple" being a relative term -- the plot unfolds thus:

Traveling company of actors tour in a play called "Nothing On," a lame sex comedy in which young girls prance around in their undies, horny old men drop trou and doors fly open and slam shut throughout. Complicating the dual structure: Each act of "Noises Off" features the actors performing the first act of "Nothing On."

(Actually, the play-within-the-play conceit begins before curtain-up: Playgoers will open the "Noises Off" program to find a facsimile of a "Nothing On" program, complete with fake bios of the fake thespians.)

Peeking in on dress rehearsal in Act I, we watch the cast wrestling with missed cues, botched entrances and exits, blown lines and malfunctioning props, notably some pesky platters of sardines. Giving us a backstage perspective in Act II, we watch a matinee a month later as personal relationships between the actors hit the skids, high jinks ensue offstage and chaos reigns onstage before the curtain finally drops.

By Act III, a performance near the end of the 10-week run finds the cast even more frayed in their relationships and desperate to end their misery, but attempting to cover up a streak of mishaps only exacerbates the onstage debacle as it devolves into slapstick mayhem.

On this rehearsal night, that's the act getting a run-through as McLeod looks on, wandering from the third row to the back of the theater to gauge the show from different audience vantage points.

Onstage, his actors enact every actor's nightmare as a prop phone is yanked by its cord against a door and falls apart, sardines meant to spill onto the floor for comic effect hang onto the plate ("sticky little buggers," the actress ad-libs) and one actor trips over a misplaced mop and pail. Others scamper up and down a staircase, fling open the wrong doors, stumble into the wrong rooms and enter and exit in exactly the wrong moments, their co-stars gaping in disbelief, as "Nothing On" goes completely splat.

"The strange thing is in the beginning, I think we all got mixed up," says Tracy Lore, an Equity actress from Los Angeles cast as the forgetful Dotty Otley, unfortunate bearer of the sardine platter.

"There's a great deal of concentration involved. To me, it's like a musical. You have to watch the doors and the cue lines. You have to count, you have to listen. If you don't have the timing, it's just not funny."

Ironically, actors' anti-instincts are key to the comedy. "What's really difficult is coaching really phenomenal actors across the board and saying, 'You're too good,' " McLeod says. "Saying, 'You need to be OK being an actor playing a character that is that bad of an actor.' Like, 'Can you do it worse? Can you remember before you had any training and try to act like that?' "

Portraying the hapless "Nothing On" director -- the only "Noises Off" performer confined to a single role -- Douglas Hill adopted a simple mantra.

"You sit there and think, 'This is absolutely the wrong thing to do -- let's go!' " he says. "I was told one of the things that helped me get the role is that I do so much directing. This is an opportunity to play someone antithetical to who I am. Maybe not a lousy director, but he's volatile, overexpressive, with control issues. It's nice to be able to go crazy in that over-the-top way that you can't do with real actors for obvious reasons."

Critics have long swooned over "Noises Off," impressed by the tightly calibrated comedy, observing that portraying utter chaos convincingly requires nimble comic writing. Reviewing a 2001 revival, The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote:

"Breathlessness, vertigo and that scary-sweet exhilaration of being out of control: there are few highs to equal the experience of floating in the upper altitudes of comedy. In the spectacularly funny new revival of 'Noises Off,' Michael Frayn's peerless backstage farce, there are moments when everyone -- onstage and in the audience -- seems to be riding the same runaway roller coaster."

However, in an example of how a well-crafted play can disintegrate when confronted by a camera, a 1992 movie adaptation bombed despite a cast including Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, Julie Hagerty and Marilu Henner.

Ex-Times critic Frank Rich, who had called the theater piece "the funniest play written in my lifetime," labeled the movie "one of the worst ever made."

Why? "It's strange to take a play about a play going wrong and then film it," McLeod says. "You add this extra layer that feels that you're distancing yourself from the play. When you watch it in real life, it just seems more real."

Live lunacy, therefore, would seem the smarter entertainment choice. Should you be so kindly inclined, you might also take along some migraine meds.

The director directing actors portraying actors portraying characters in a fake play within a real play ... would appreciate that.