“That’s what it’s all about — doors and sardines,” Director Lloyd Dallas (played by Eric Leonard) said in frustration. A swell of laughter rose from the audience as he frantically attempted to marshal his troupe of actors performing “Nothing On,” the play-within-a-play that is the focus of the comedy “Noises Off.”
Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, an organization focused on bringing Shakespeare to students through engaging and lively performances, presented their opening night of “Noises Off”on Jan. 24 at the Black Box Theater. The play was directed by Kevin Asseline and performed by a cast of Shakespeare in the Parks veterans.
“Noises Off,” written by Michael Frayn, is a bedroom farce, or a light comedy that centers around sexual relationships, misunderstandings and slapstick. However, the play also takes aim at stereotypical elements of the theater, including egotistic directors and washed-up actors. It follows a motley group of British actors as they attempt to produce and perform a show called “Nothing On,” even as their meta-show begins to devolve into a chaotic mess of romantic rivalries and theatrical hijinks.
The first act of “Noises Off” is set at the dress rehearsal of “Nothing On,” during which the actors reveal their utter unpreparedness through flubbing lines, missing entrances and exits, and stumbling over stage furniture. Act 2 is set at a matinée performance in which the play is seen from backstage in all its helter-skelter glory. The final act shows a performance of “Nothing On” near the end of its run in which everything that can possibly go wrong somehow does.
“Nothing On,” the framed narrative of “Noises Off,” is like the old idiom of a bad car accident: it hurts to look, but you just can’t turn away. “Nothing On” and its failures, which range from fumbled dialogue to misplaced props to love triangles between actors, create the incredibly funny success of “Noises Off.”
One of the hardest parts of any comedy to nail down are the mistakes. “Noises Off” demands flawless mastery of its errors, down to the smallest fraction of a second. In addition, the show incorporates a massive change of setting. During first intermission, the two-story set is turned 180° to give the viewer a new perspective on the proceedings. While it’s a notoriously challenging piece to master, the Shakespeare in the Parks cast managed to pull together the riotous pandemonium that earns “Noises Off” its reputation as one of the all-time, greatest farces.
With some of the best slapstick since Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors,” “Noises Off” is a can’t-miss event. The show runs through Feb. 10 in the Black Box, so there’s still time to catch some of its hilarity. Students must reserve their tickets for $10 by calling (406) 994-3303.