Comedy onstage takes many forms, but one manifestation that is particularly well-suited to theatrical viewing (and translates notoriously poorly to the silver screen) is the type of farce known as a “doorslammer.” Typically, the stage set literally contains a lot of doors, through which the actors make frequent entrances and exits. Most of the humor resides in the collisions, discoveries, near-misses and in some cases mistaken identities as characters in search of someone or with something to hide come and go. Boeing, Boeing and Moon over Buffalo are a couple of contemporary examples popularly performed by community theatre groups, but the genre goes back at least as far as Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.
To pull off a doorslammer comedy successfully, you need a director and a cast who are really on their toes, because timing is everything. While watching such a farce from backstage circa 1970, English playwright Michael Frayn made the observation that it was “funnier from behind than in front,” and determined there and then to write a comedy that depicts a play-within-a-play from the point of view of the performers and stage crew. What make the result doubly funny are the facts that 1) the stage company in question is completely dysfunctional, riven by competitions and jealousies, and 2) the material that its members are trying to perform is rubbish to begin with.
That’s the premise of Frayn’s masterwork Noises Off, which ran for five years when it first opened in London in 1982; the 1983 Broadway production copped a Best Play Tony. Some would call it the ultimate doorslammer ever written – the apotheosis of the genre, deconstructing it from the inside as the squabbling, temperamental players strive to undermine one another onstage. It adds a whole new level of meaning to the psychology term “acting out.” And done well, it’s screamingly funny.
The extra challenge here is that anyone wishing to perform Noises Off needs to cultivate great timing at conveying multiple instances of poor timing and missed cues. Let’s hope that Up in One Productions director Diana di Grandi and her cast are rehearsing really hard as this is written, because they’re about to unleash Noises Off at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck this Friday, May 30, and continue it weekends through June 15. The cast includes Susan Gies as Dotty, Thomas Webb as Lloyd, Tom Bunker as Garry, Amber McCarthy as Brooke, Kevin Archambault as Frederick, Courtney Constantino as Belinda, Emily DePew as Poppy, John Schmtiz as Tim, Lou Trapani as Selsdon and some unfortunate sardines.
Performances begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinées at 3 p.m. Tickets for Noises Off cost $24 for adults, $22 for seniors and children, and can be ordered by visiting www.centerforperformingarts.org or by calling the box office at (845) 876-3080. The box office is open from 12 noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Get your seats now, and make sure to look up “posset” in the dictionary before you go.
Noises Off, Friday/Saturday, May 30/31, June 6/7 & 13/14, 8 p.m., Sunday, June 1, 8 & 15, Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-3080, www.centerforperformingarts.org.