Noises Off Delivers Non-Stop Comedic Action

By Gerry Roe; photos by Jackie Jensen.

Bryant Duffy as Frederick/Phillip

Coralville – From its beginning in 1982, Michael Frayn’s Noises Off has been a favorite among regional and community theatres, and with good reason. It is among the best farces of modern times, and certainly one of the best dealing with a theatrical company. Frayn’s play gives us a company assembled to perform a British sex comedy called Nothing On and follows the company from an exhausting dress rehearsal to a matinee one month into the tour to the final performance another month later. Although we see the performances at various stages, we see only the first act. However, we see it from multiple points of view: we are in the audience’s conventional seats in the front of the house at the outset; the second act takes us backstage where we can watch the interactions of the company as they make their various entrances and exits; the third act brings us back to the front of the house for the conventional view of the stage.

A digression: in general the British do better sex comedies than we Americans. Think of Dirk Bogarde’s Doctor in the House and the series that followed it, or the Carry On… movies, the farces of Ray Cooney, or the Monty Python sketches. I think it is their ability to be naughty without being vulgar that makes them special.

Director Wallace Chappell has assembled a talented troupe of local actors to bring to life the on- and off-stage characters who struggle with a production of Nothing On. Wisely setting the “tour” in our own Cultural Corridor, Chappell has made it possible for us to accept the varying degrees of success with British accents without affecting our senses or sensibilities. Robyn Calhoun plays the leading role of Dotty/Mrs. Clackett with believable confusion during the late-night dress rehearsal and frustration in the final performance. Act II gives us more of Dotty’s search for affection as well as revealing her financial interest in the production. On-stage or off, her comic instincts are well employed. Her director, played by Eddie Skaggs, enlists our sympathy in Act One for putting up with the staggering misadventures of his actors. Subsequent acts show him as less put-upon than manipulating; E. Skaggs does it all with conviction.

Kaitlyn Skaggs plays the short-sighted ingénue, Brooke/Vicki, with aplomb. Her self-centered qualities are made clear without ever becoming irritating; there is something about her innocent indifference that keeps her an appealing character. Shannon Bonney as Belinda/Flavia does good work in both her on- and off-stage characters, from the affluent housewife to the rather maternal care for her fellow actors when offstage.

Matt Falduto (l) as Garry/Roger and Robyn Calhoun as Dotty/Mrs. Clackett

Matt Falduto’s work as the inarticulate but hardly silent Garry and as Roger, intent on a passionate interlude with Vicki, is exemplary for its vocal variations and its skillful physical comedy. His exertions are enough to make the audience breathless. Bryant Duffy as Frederick is an earnest but clueless actor attempting to find his motivation and rendered helpless in the presence of even perceived violence. When Frederick assumes the role of the hapless Phillip, Duffy keeps Frederick very much in mind and on view, a sterling example of the merger of actor and character. Kevin Burford is thoroughly enjoyable as the old actor, Selsdon, who has lost much of his hearing but nothing of his dedication to two things: the stage and the bottle.

The two “off-stage” actors, Brett Borden as Tim, the company and stage manager, and Ramya Hipp’s assistant stage manager, Poppy, are equally convincing in their roles. Tim is called upon to fix any mechanical problems on stage and to serve as understudy for Selsdon and, apparently, any other male character. Borden does excellent work as the general factotum, requisite but unrewarded. Poppy’s concentration in following the book, calling cues, and even becoming an emergency off-stage voice for a missing actor, and the complications of her personal life, are all reflected appropriately in her delivery of comparatively fewer lines than others on stage.

Shannon Bonney as Belinda/Flavia; 
Kaitlyn Skaggs as Brooke/Vicki

City Circle Acting Company is to be commended for its presentation of Noises Off. The production crew responsible for the design of the rotating set, the lighting, sound, costumes, and makeup all make a strong contribution to the success of the production. Chappell and his actors keep the comedy moving from beginning to end. Acts I and III are funny and satisfying; Act II is a three-ring circus. You may not always know exactly where to look but wherever you look you will find action integral to the drama at hand. And you may even spot a plate of sardines.

Noises Off runs through Sep 16 at the CCPA, with shows at 2 p.m. on Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $22-27 ($17 students/seniors).

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