Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Noises Off


Here is a stage play so damn good that not even this rather lackluster filming of it can ruin it. I’ve seen it three times, in Eugene, Portland, and Glendale, and each time nearly died laughing. The thing is, it is a stage stage play, wholly dependent on the conventions of the live theater. Making a film was probably a mistake, but I’m glad they did it, so there is an archive performance of it. But how much better it would have been if they had simply set the camera up where the audience would be, and let it roll.

The premise here is that a second-rate traveling repertory company is putting on a bedroom farce called “Nothing On!” It has a two-story set with about a dozen doors. Here, comic timing is all, as people have to enter and leave, just missing each other. A few seconds sooner or later can utterly destroy the scene.

Act One is the final dress rehearsal, and it’s clear this is going to be a disaster. No one is completely sure just what they are supposed to be doing, and when. We get a broad outline of how the play should go, and are introduced to all the players and their characters, each with something wonderfully kinky in his or her make-up.

Act Two is some time later. The show is on the road, and the entire set has been turned around, so we see all the action from behind. This is sheer genius. Relationships have developed and deteriorated, to the point that some of the players are determined to sabotage some of the others.

Finally we get Act Three, even later, and once more the set has been turned around. Disaster doesn’t even begin to describe it. We know the kind of things that are going on backstage, and we see the excruciating moments as the actors are stranded on stage because someone hasn’t made an entrance, or some prop isn’t where it should be.

There’s really no way to communicate just how hilarious this all is. If someone in your town is staging it, go see it. But they had better be good (all three productions I saw were excellent), because the performers could easily end up being as awful as the people in the play within a play. Timing is everything!