By Claire Robertson
“I try to get students to attempt things that scare them,” said Assistant Professor of Drama Ben Viccellio, the director of this year’s Family Weekend main stage show. With his pick of Noises Off by Michael Frayn, he’s clearly taking his own advice.
Not only is Noises Off regarded as “the funniest play ever written,” according to Production Stage Manager Molly McCleary ’14, but it also may be one of the hardest shows she’s ever worked on. “This one is pretty crazy,” she said. “It’s tough as an actor, a director and a stage manager.”
Some of the difficulty stems from the farcical nature of the show. Noises Off is about a traveling group of actors who are rehearsing and performing a play called Nothing On. Over the course of three acts, the audience watches the runs of Nothing On slowly deteriorate from both the onstage and backstage perspective. Not only are the actors playing other actors, they are also playing actors who are in turn playing characters ﾗ creating a real performance challenge. “A lot of the lines are similar with minor changes between the different acts, so just one word or a different prop can throw you off,” said Elliot Cromer ’15 who plays Selesdon Mowbray in Noises Off. “The second act is especially difficult, because you’re looking at the backstage, but the ﾑplay’ [Nothing On], is going on on the ﾑstage’ that is actually backstage.”
And how does the audience see the backstage? The entire set spins a full 180 degrees and has two sides, one showing the Nothing On stage, and one showing the Nothing On backstage area. The run crew works hard in two intermissions to completely transform the set from onstage to backstage and then back to onstage.
“It’s amazing that they can turn around the entire set and put up 17 walls in 10 minutes, twice,” said Rachel Cunningham ’14, who plays Dotty Otley in Noises Off. “The set is the main character of the play,” Viccellio said.
Greg Culley, a senior drama/art history double major, designed the set as part of his senior thesis. “He is without a doubt one of the most talented and hardworking students I’ve had,” Viccellio said. “Basically the trick with his set is that he’s building two sets.”
Throughout the show, characters obsess over two things: doors and sardines. The set has nine doors that perpetually slam in people’s faces, leading to missed connections and mass confusion. During the second act in particular, characters run up and down the stairs and all over the backstage, making it “one of the most physical shows” Cunningham has ever done. In addition, actors often have multiple props at any given moment ﾗ sometimes props from both Nothing On and Noises Off itself. The show as a whole has strong metatheatrical elements to it ﾗ invoking a commentary about drama and plays as a whole. Part of the reason Cunningham likes is so much is because “it pokes fun at theater itself.”
More than anything, Noises Off is a farce through and through. “It’s so smart; it’s so well put together,” Viccellio said, illuminating the comedy of the script itself. “It would be hard to do a bad job with what [Frayn] gave us,” Cromer said.
All of the actors are strongly committed to putting on such a complicated show in a short time, and have given extra time and effort in the past few weeks. Noises Off runs extremely smoothly, even while nothing at all goes smoothly in Nothing On.
“I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun working on a show,” Cunningham said.
Noises Off runs in the Bolton Theater tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday at 8 p.m.