Call it choreographing and executing controlled chaos with comic timing.
Farce is, in some ways, a dance in that actors must know what steps to take and how to execute them while seemingly out of control...without ending up in the hospital with, say, a head injury.
A talented Harlequins Sandusky Community Theatre cast, for the most part, convinces you its members are having a prolonged spaz attack in the English sex farce "Noises Off" on stage through Sunday.
Basically, "Noises Off" is an English sex farce about actors performing in an English sex face (the play-within-a play,"Nothing On").
Playing one character is challenging enough, but the play-within-a-play format requires a majority of the actors to play more than one part.
Cast members transition seamlessly from one to another in the production, directed with physicality by Donna Jean Evans, who ensures the actors appear out of control without hyperventilating. Indeed, I could see beads of sweat on at least two actors as they performed their cardio-workout of a performance; they're always in perpetual motion. It's also a credit to Evans and cast members that their gestures don't come across as "mugging" or showing off for the audience. Their exaggerations arise organically from the characters' situations
In the deftly structured "Noises Off," the chaos and shenanigans inherent in the play-within-a-play,"Nothing On," bleeds into the personal lives of the actors. When they're backstage, not performing in "Nothing On," the drama in which the actors are involved seems even nuttier than in "Nothing On." By the end, the two story-lines -- offstage and on -- can no longer be separated, leading to a nervous breakdown... and a theatrical producer's worst nightmare.
Offstage, arms flail uncontrollably. Actors mime shouting at each other, they run like madmen from one area to another "backstage," trousers drop, objects are flung and at least one thespian threatens to kill his fellow actor over a relationship.
It's a cardio-workout, alright. And if you're sitting in the audience somewhat lethargic from having done nothing all day, the workout looks so tempting you want to get up on stage and join in.
The frenzy doesn't diminish much in "Nothing On."
Tax evaders, a sheikh, a tax authority employee, a private rendezvous and, of course, a plate of disappearing and re-appearing sardines play prominently.
There's something funny about hearing the word "sardines" as many times as you do in "Noises Off"/"Nothing On" (I lost count). But what produces the belly laughs is the fact that, at one point, the plate of sardines is stuck an arm of one of the actors while tax forms are stuck to his other arm.
"I've heard of people getting stuck with the problem, but this is ridiculous!" the character, Frederick, complains. It's one of the play's funnier lines, but as spoken by Mark Sartor, the deadpan effect isn't quite achieved.
Doors slamming, another hallmark of farce, is also prominent in "Noises Off."
The set (roomy enough for the movement and bright enough for a comedy, but rather plain looking without the "many period features" mentioned int the script) contains enough doors for chaotic rounds of revolving, slamming doors. The pace is quick during "Nothing On" but could be just a little quicker with the doors slamming a tad harder.
But there are plenty of bright spots in this production, including the acting and realistic lighting and fanciful costumes.
Cody Noon resembles a caged, ferocious, scowling, pacing starved tiger that's poised to strike at any moment in his "Noises Off" role of Garry Lejeune. The expressive, nuanced actor is in a state of panic as he darts from one door to another, opening and slamming each.
Rob Albach, whose British accent could use work, coveys enough charm as English director Lloyd Dallas that he's likable. But when Dallas' patience wears thin and his eyes widen, watch out for the thunderous scream and readily apparent exasperation.
"Noises Off" is also populated by, among others, a green actress new to showbiz (a delightfully unaware, absent-minded Kate Sanders), a highly emotional actress (a sensitive Katherine Gauthier), an overworked assistant stage manager (a spent Jim Miller), an actor with a fear of violence that leads to nosebleeds (a nervous, dazed Mark Sartor) a dutiful housekeeper (Ellie Stuck, who nails the cockney dialect), a drunken, dazed actor (a scatterbrained Frank Swinehart, who looks like he just awoken from a slumber) and a well meaning actress (a good-hearted Felicia Girdner)..
"Noises Off" has fun with ineffective acting, actors caught up in the drama of their personal lives and shows how, excuse the cliche, art can often imitate life.
What happens on-stage in "Nothing On" might turn into a nightmare for director Lloyd.
But that's hardly the truth for director Evans.
Pass the champagne...and, of course, the sardines.
Aaron Krause is a Reflector staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU GO
WHAT: "Noises Off"
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday as well as 2 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Harlequins Coach House Theatre, 414 Wayne St. (in the rear), Sandusky.
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $12