School of Theatre turns on laughs with Noises Off

by David Bell

Contributing Writer

Closing the Wortham School of Theatre's 1995-96 season is Michael Frayn's hit comedy, Noises Off. With a brilliant script, an excellent director and a finely tuned cast, it was obvious at Friday's opening night that the School of Theatre had saved the best for last.

Noises Off is a farce about a group of people rehearsing, then performing a fictional play called Nothing On. Unfortunately for the characters, everything that could possibly go wrong does.

Dense actors, a weak script, backstage romances and too many personal agendas turn Nothing On into the biggest fiasco ever to be framed by a proscenium. However, as Nothing On gets worse, Noises Off gets funnier and funnier.

Act 1 of Noises Off is the rehearsal, or the metaphorical slow ride up the first hump of the roller coaster. The coaster twistes and turnes at top speed as Act 2 offeres a backstage view of one of their performances, where angry actors, forced to remain quiet, fight bitterly in between their entrances.

Just when the audience thinks the ride is over, Act 3 throws in a corkscrew with another performance of Nothing On, in which the burnt-out actors are caught off guard by their own on-stage technical errors.

Frayn's mega-farce is so well-crafted that many other successful plays of this genre pale in comparison.

Director Carolyn Houston Boone faced quite a challenge with staging this difficult production. Boone's high-voltage direction kept the speed at a breakneck pace and made this two-and-a-half-hour physical comedy whiz by.

Boone has also assembled an ensemble particularly adept at tricky comic timing. I cannot begin to imagine how many hours were put into perfecting all of the intricate comedic moments. There were no weak links in the cast, and each member added their own humor to the production with their lush characterizations.

One particular standout was Jamie Flowers, whose character of the cast gossip reminded me of Tracy Ullman at her comedic best. During Act 3, when everything on stage was going haywire, she would deliver excuses for all the mishaps, then shoot the audience a panicked ambassador's smile. It was quite hilarious.

There is nothing more tragic than a poorly produced farce and nothing more wonderful than a well-produced one. The School of Theatre's production happily trips face first into the latter.

Noises Off plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre on campus. Tickets are $5. For reservations and information, call 743-2929.

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