Opening Night at Noises Off
I have this problem when I see shows sometimes. I tend to keep my right eye on the stage and my left eye on the audience. It can make for an interesting theatregoing experience.
Last night's opening performance of Noises Off at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey makes me glad I have this peculiar habit; it was so much fun to watch the audience in tandem with the actors, completely in sync with the riotously funny show.
There is something so liberating and wonderful about that moment when you're watching something really funny, when you're seeing truly masterful comedy, and you realize that your sides actually hurt. It's a really wonderful thing when you realize you've laughed enough to sort of give yourself a workout.
Paul Mullins has directed this show as a balletic and gleefully dangerous ode to theatre, as collided with Murphy's Law: If anything can go wrong, it will, explosively and dramatically. Noises Off follows nine personalities through several months on the road with a brittle English farce; as relationships simmer, develop, rupture and discorporate, the actors take their frustrations out on one another and the show itself, as the audience is treated to three iterations of the farce's first act, as things get progressively more chaotic.
This is one of those shows that theatre people look at as a love letter to their lives; it's like playwright Michael Frayn took notes on every way a production could spectacularly derail, and threw it deftly into one script. I've seen maybe fifteen or sixteen productions of Noises Off, and this one has perhaps more mirth and charming attitude than I've yet seen.
The most unique thing about Mullins' approach is that, for the first time, I really appreciate the way the comedy in the show is set up almost like a Rube Goldberg contraption. There's a saying based on Chekhov's work that if you see a gun in act one of a play, it had better be fired by act three. Well, here we've got umpteen plates of sardines, newspapers, telephones, an axe, staircases, shoelaces, sheets (in black and white varieties), booze, broken glass...more and more destructive variables are added to the arsenal of ways these actors can try to disrupt one another, until when, late in act two, a cactus is added to the mix, you could almost hear the "uh-oh..." rise in unison from the audience.
And then, in turn, the audience rose in standing ovation at show's end. It was well-earned, and the relatively long (but worth it!) evening seemed to fly by in the face of the show's laughter and skill.
All in all, I'm sure STNJ has a hit on their hands. Buy tickets here, while you can. You'll have a blast.
Tomorrow, I'll talk a little bit about crowd reactions, the after party, and STNJ's amazing professional training program.
Noises Off: The After Party
STNJ throws an opening night reception that pretty much matches the quality of performance, note for note. Chinese lanterns hung outside the Kirby Theatre and a complimentary glass of champagne at intermission set the mood for a warm and lively after-party, in which the cast, crew, and audience toasted the previous standing-ovation-worthy performance.
To the right is a picture of Izzie Steele of New Brunswick, Katie Fabel of Brooklyn, NY, and Olga Rass of Ocean. Izzie is a participant in STNJ’s remarkable professional training program, and just performed in Pericles with the company; the young members of the training program provide staff and hospitality for opening night. Katie is AMAZING as Brook in Noises Off, and was gracious, charming, and lovely to chat with. And Olga attended the performance on Saturday, and had a great time.
So, there you have it–an aspiring actress, a talented member of the evening’s cast, and an audience member, mingling on the patio, post-show. STNJ set the mood perfectly, and an an excellent performance segued intoto a relaxed and comfortable celebration.