CEDAR CITY — It was a play about a play, with the actors playing actors, and it was nothing short of delightful insanity. This year, the Utah Shakespeare Festival is presenting Noises Off! for their summer and fall seasons, so you have no excuse to miss this quirky show.
Noises Off! presents the story of six actors, their director, and stage managers all struggling to piece together the play Nothing On. The first act of Noises Off! is the final rehearsal for the production, the second act gives us a backstage view of Nothing On one month into its tour, and the third act wraps up the show another month later. The play (the one within the real play) is never really solid to begin with, but it deteriorates even further by the end of its run. Noises Off! pokes fun at the process of building a play and at those interesting characters who participate.
From the first of Lloyd’s lines (Ben Livingston), I could feel the stress and tension that he, the director, was feeling; his production was not ready for an audience, and it was opening the next day. Lloyd tries so hard to control himself as his cast members fumble lines, forget blocking (Lloyd yells, “You leave the sardines”), and question his decisions—all just hours before the curtain is scheduled to rise. This rush isn’t fiction, according to (real) director, Jeff Steitzer, who admitted at the next morning’s discussion that he and his cast had only two weeks to rehearse Noises Off! What stress that must create for a director, who must put all he can into a production and then set it free, to carry his name and his reputation out into the world. We get to laugh at that stress, though, as we watch Lloyd in Noises Off!
Lloyd can’t seem to stay away from his show, even as it has ventured beyond rehearsals, partially because he is so invested, and partially because of his relations with a female cast member (or two). Have you ever thought about the relationships that must exist backstage at a show? If actors spend all that time together, they are bound to have feelings, good or bad, for one another. This dynamic is played to the extreme in Noises Off! as 2 or 3 love triangles create havoc in the cast.
Other theatrical truths are presented, like the physical chaos backstage. Actors fumble with costumes, run to make entrances, and in the case of Noises Off!, buy flowers, swing fire axes, and lose contact lenses. In the second Act of Noises, I learned something new, through the characters of Poppy (Betsy Mugavero) and Tim (Ian Durant). I never realized how helpless a stage manager must feel, just hoping their actors will show up on time, and that they are prepared to perform each night. Durant’s beaten down demeanor in Act I, as well, shows how much stage managers run and do for their directors. “Fix the doors, Tim!”
If you’ve never participated in theater, this show will teach you a lot while it is making you laugh, and if you have participated in theater, you might see some people you know in the characters on stage. Do you recognize any of these?
Dotty – the old and loveable actress, who has invested her own money into the show
Garry – without written lines, he fumbles quite a bit with words
Brooke – the beautiful, airy, blonde, who doesn’t really know what’s going on
Freddy – the self-deprecating actor, who wants the director to define “his motivation”
Belinda – the nurturer of the group, helping, comforting (maybe even normal)
Selsdon – old and endearing, he’s a bit of drunk
Each character in this show was unique, interesting, and hilarious. I’m not certain whether to give the credit to the writer (Michael Frayn), the director (Jeff Steitzer), or the actors themselves—it’s probably a combination of them all. Another predicament: the actors of Noises Off! are playing actors who are acting in a play called Nothing On, so which traits belong to the Noises Off! character, and which are a part of their Nothing On role? (Am I being confusing enough?) For example, Brooke (Ally Carey) isn’t romantically interested in Garry (Quinn Mattfeld), like her character Vicki is with Garry’s Roger, but Brooke and her character do share the traits of being a bit ditsy and self-absorbed. Perhaps the actors for Nothing On were cast into roles that mirrored their true personalities. And perhaps I am thinking too much about this.
Garry (Quinn Mattfeld) was my favorite character. He had beautiful comedic timing and played those ambiguous lines (“It’s like …. y’know”) so well. I laughed quite a bit in the third act of the show when Dotty (Jeanne Paulsen) has completely given up trying to follow the script, and Garry is forced to ad lib to keep the show going. He also has to cope with Brooke, who is strictly following the book, and pretty much making no sense. Mattfeld was beyond hilarious. His physical comedy moments, too, were some of the most memorable: falling down a flight of stairs, doing the splits as he slipped on a newspaper, and various other funny movements.
What a joyful Brittish comedy it turned out to be. Playfully jabbing at theater personalities and processes, it was joyfully agonizing to see the cast of Nothing On stumble through their play. There were slamming doors, there were sardines, and there was a very happy audience (from my perspective) at the end of the show. Take a trip down to Cedar City, love, and enjoy these two plays for the price of one.
Update: Read UTBA’s interview of Noises Off! cast member Betsy Mugavero. We also invite you to watch UTBA’s video interview of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s executive director, R. Scott Phillips.