EXCERPTS FROM THE STORY
Below are excerpts from the May 15, 2017 Baltimore Sun preview of Noises Off.
EVERYMAN THEATRE IS TACKLING A FARCE, GENERATING RECORD ADVANCE TICKET SALES
Sometimes, you just feel like a farce.
That time appears to be now, at least in Baltimore, where Everyman Theatre reports extra interest in its production of Michael Frayn's farcical romp of a play, "Noises Off," opening this weekend.
"The ticket sale advance is the biggest we've ever had," says Everyman's founding artistic director Vincent M. Lancisi. "Sure, there are other farces out there. But this one has earned its place as one of the funniest British farces ever written."
For 35 years, since its London premiere with a cast featuring the brilliant Patricia ("Keeping Up Appearances") Routledge, "Noises Off" has won fans for its witty script and frenetically paced plot about a woeful touring theatrical troupe rehearsing and then trying to perform a farce at various venues in England.
The play-within-a-play element intensifies opportunities for getting laughs out of traditional farcical ingredients — bungled exits and entrances through any number of doors, etc. — while adding backstage romantic entanglements that provide even more comic fuel.
"Everyone knows doing comedy is hard," says Lancisi, who is directing the production, "but [farce] is an exact science. It is very technical. It's like the difference between cooking and baking — if you stray from the directions, the joke doesn't work."
Reliable props are as crucial as well-honed lines.
"You have to make sure each door works, but also that the door knob comes off when you want it to," Daniel Ettinger, Everyman's resident scenic designer.
Lancisi has worked for the past several weeks with his cast of nine to grease the play's ingredients, verbal and physical.
"It's so much fun watching our resident actors playing other actors. There's a lot of art-meeting-life-meeting-art going on."
"We're spending a lot of time getting the timing just right," says Wil Love, one of eight Everyman resident company actors in "Noises Off." "If you add anything [to what's written], it has to be miniscule, or the timing will be off. You depend a lot on your fellow actors."
Love portrays the vividly named Selsdon Mowbray, a theater veteran with assorted baggage (and bottles).
"Selsdon is a Shakespearen actor who, like me, has been around forever," Love says. "He can't hear, he has a problem with alcohol — and, somehow, [the playwright] makes all of that funny."
Frayn's script also injects plenty of humor into the role of Dotty Otley, an actress of a certain age who is the main investor in the struggling troupe, and the main squeeze of a much younger player in the company.
"She's dotty," says Everyman resident company member Deborah Hazlett, "and she has been in the business a long time. She's making her last-ditch effort to get this show on the road."
Although much of "Noises Off" depends on an ensemble's precision, there's still room for individuality.
"Vinny gives us latitude," Hazlett says. "He wants us to bring ourselves to the work. But it has to be within your character. You might change the way you move and talk every night, not the timing."
For Lancisi, there's a bonus to directing Hazlett, Love and the other Everyman regulars in this particular venture.
"It's so much fun watching our resident actors playing other actors," he says. "There's a lot of art-meeting-life-meeting-art going on."
Of course, that doesn't mean the Everyman folks are entirely like the fictional thespians in "Noises Off," with all their personal entanglements, jealousies and quirks.
"We want to strangle each other once in a while, but we do love each other," Hazlett says, "This relationship we all have going back years makes the interactions [in the play] work. It is a joy to be onstage with everyone. We keep laughing at each other, especially if we make a mistake."
Given all its intricate working parts and specific British settings, "Noises Off" is not a play ripe for fanciful re-interpretations — "There is no reason to take apart the structure," Ettinger says — but that doesn't prevent tweaking.
The Everyman staging will place the action about a decade before "Noises Off" was written.
"At a pre-production meeting, Eric Abele, our costume designer, suggested that the 1970s was something fun he'd like to work with," Ettinger says. "My hand shot up. I said, 'Yes, let's do that.' It opened up all kinds of possibilities for colors and patterns. Even the wall paper is funny."