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High energy and big laughs in Noises Off at Theatre in the Park

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Michael Frayn's Noises Off is an excellent fit for Theatre in the Park, which has staged a number of farces with the energy level up to 11 in recent seasons. Frayn's 1982 hit about the thoroughly inept staging of a play is an open ticket for actors to ham it up, and some inspired performances provide big laughs in the slightly overlong production.

Noises Off, a farce about a farce, concerns the production of an awful play-within-a-play involving the slamming of doors, people in their underwear and sardines. The construction of the play over three acts involves variations on the backstage catastrophes that afflict various attempts at staging the play-within-the-play, ranging from malfunctioning sets to behind-the-scenes relationships gone awry to the actors' general incompetence. The first act involves a dress rehearsal, the second a literal look behind the scenes during a later performance, and the third a show from near the end of its run, with the actors on their last legs.

There isn't much story—most of the plot points that come up are left unresolved—but the cleverness of Frayn's script comes from one of the key elements of farce: the gradual deviation from the norm. Letting the play-within-the-play gradually unfold makes it that much funnier when the backstage action during Act 2 takes place in well-timed counterpoint to the play the actors are performing on the unseen side of the set, or when they're being forced to madly improvise during Act 3.

The best work in this show, directed by Ira David Wood IV, comes in the second act, where the bulk of the physical comedy plays out in silence backstage as various characters battle one another as the play goes on offstage. Particularly notable is Theatre in the Park regular Rob Rainbolt as Garry, the play's lead actor, who is required to fall downstairs, hide behind furniture ninja-style and attack a castmate with a fire ax. The aspect of the character where he stutters constantly when not in his stage role appears to have been eliminated for this production, but Rainbolt's energy more than makes up for it. Also standing out are George M. Kaiser as the hapless (and occasionally narcoleptic) stage manager, Tim, and Randall Stanton as the alcoholic Selsdon.

Noises Off is theater for fans of theater; its mockery of stage comedy and the egos behind the scenes will prove most meaningful to those who've sat through a number of productions without thinking of what goes into making them run smoothly. Though the two intermissions stretch the running time to two and a half hours, a long time for a nonmusical comedy, rotating the two-level, two-sided set between acts perhaps make this necessary. Despite the length, Theatre in the Park's taste for farce helps give Noises Off a sense of high energy and big laughs—and certainly a better time for audiences than for the characters onstage.

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