Island audiences can expect pratfalls, wardrobe malfunctions and slapstick on steroids when local thespians perform “Noises Off,” an award-winning farce, this week and next at the Vashon High School theater.
The show — Drama Dock’s summer offering — was hailed on London’s West End and Broadway as “a festival of delirium.” But it is also a love letter to bad theater, ham actors and backstage bloopers. Its characters include an overbearing stage director wooing not one but two ingenues, a faded TV star bent on reclaiming her place in the footlights, a dim-witted actor prone to nosebleeds and a good-hearted gossip who keeps her cast mates up-to-date on their scandal-prone production.
Susan Hanson, who is directing the Vashon production, said the brilliance of “Noises Off” comes from the way that, as a classic farce, it “takes something that is believably normal and exaggerates it to the point of the ridiculous.”
The show, written by British playwright Michael Frayn, premiered in 1982 in London. Since then, it has had three successful Broadway runs, with the most recent revival opening in New York in 2016. The show has also been made into a movie and is a favorite of community theater groups on both sides of the Atlantic.
The action of the play-within-a-play takes place in three acts, with the first act showing a disastrous final rehearsal of a third-rate sex comedy called “Nothing On.” The audience’s perspective is flipped in the second act, which shows holy theatrical hell breaking loose backstage as the show is performed a few weeks later. The view flips again for the third act, as the actors present one of the final performances of the show — but by this time, the production has lost all pretense of professionalism as behind-the-scenes vendettas, missed cues and chaos reign.
Hanson’s cast for the show includes local actor/director Chaim Rosemarin, veteran actors and husband/wife duo Marshall and Stephanie Murray, Drama Dock regulars Peter Kreitner, Dianna Daniel and Coriel Silkett, and theater newbie James Norton. Joy Ghigleri and Max Lopuszynski, who grew up performing youth and community theater on Vashon and are now pursuing professions as actors, are also in the cast.
The troupe, said Hanson, is up for the comedic challenges of the show, which includes the hall-of-mirrors task of playing actors as well as the characters they inhabit. The physical comedy of “Noises Off,” Hanson added, is so precisely timed that at times it is like “a cross between stage combat and dance.”
“This is the first cast that has asked me if we could do extra rehearsals,” Hanson said. “The show is incredibly demanding.”
The actors have been rehearsing the play for weeks, she said, on an intricate, two-story, revolving set designed by her husband, architect Craig Hanson, and built by islander Robert Piston along with an able crew of local carpenters.
Precisely-timed entrances and exits through seven separate slamming doors on the set, plus a picture window, are a crucial part of the comedy of the play.
“You rehearse it at half speed, and then you speed it up and then add dialogue to it,” said Hanson.
Drama Dock’s two previous summer shows — “Chicago,” in 2016, and “Little Shop of Horrors,” in 2017, were performed at Vashon Center for the Arts. But this year, Hanson said, it has been great to have the option to perform at the 265-seat Vashon High School theater. Indeed, Hanson said, she was only able to bring “Noises Off” to Vashon because of the availability of the high school theater — a space that allowed for the long rehearsal process and the early construction of the set. With school out for summer, Drama Dock’s cast has been in residence in the air-conditioned performance hall since mid-June, clamoring up and down the set’s multiple staircases and perfecting the enactment of a hilariously imperfect play.
Cast member Stephanie Murray, who acted professionally for 17 years, cited an old theatrical proverb — “Dying is easy, comedy is hard” — to describe the challenges of the show.
“I’ve never been in a cast that is so dependent on each other because it’s all in the timing,” she said.
Marshall Murray, who also plays a leading role in the show, agreed that the show is difficult to perform, but said the rewards of being in it have already been great.
“Farce is starting to feel like something of a dying art,” he said. “Not many new farces are being written, so I’m really honored that I get a chance to do this.”
Hanson warned that the play has naughty bits — it is a sex farce, after all, that includes scantily-clad characters and some spicy dialogue. It’s recommended for ages 13 and older, she said.
Still, she said, the show is the perfect light summer fare for island audiences.
“Everyone on the island who is old enough should see it,” she said. “We need to laugh.”
“Noises Off” will be performed at Vashon High School on Aug. 3,4,5,9,10,11 and 12. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets, available at Vashon Bookshop and Brown Paper Tickets, are $18 for seniors, students and Drama Dock members and $22 for general admission. On Thursday, Aug. 9, audiences may pay what they can to see the show.