The Concord Journal
Comedic exchanges central to 'Noises Off'
By Ellen Denison  

Journal Correspondent

The British are exceptionally goot at it. Americans savor it. Europeans take it to new places with their sharpened sense of absurd. And Concordians tasted it gleefully last weekend as The Concord Players opened their 75th anniversary season with a production of Michael Frayn's Noises Off.

The elusive it is farce -- it is the cornerstone of this smartly written comedy and demands split-second timing and impeccable delivery, both of which this talented and energetic band of actors achieved moment to moment throughout the play's curiously inverted acts.

As Noises Off - a reference to the sounds and stirrings offstage during a theatrical production -- begins, we are thrust into the midst of a rehearsal of the play within a play Nothing On. The imaginative set allows us long glances into the workings of a production through its many seams: we see Act I three times, in fact, once from the audience perspective, once from the backstage view, and finally from both vantage points as they merge into one startlingly funny melange of myth and reality. The lines between them are meant to blur, and the do, informing us obliquely of the possiblities for high humor and constant dramatic tension in stage life, with all its obvious requirements for camouflage, immediate professional intimacy, and close living. The ample talents of seasoned actors such as Concord's Bob Peters - inimitable as the caricature middle-class British working man with amusingly dishonorable intentions - make this a feat of comedic exchanges.

Crucial to the success of a play meant to be staged as Noises Off is the stage itself, or rather the planning and placement of set components so that all aspects are fitted for viewing by the audience. This was the Players' challenge as they undertook Frayn's work. Set designer Douglas Cooper was required to configure a set that would transport easily, remain steady, and serve the three necessary viewing points equally well.

For Richard Quanrud, set construction chief for this performance, this set was perhaps the greatest test ever of his talents. It was built on three carts, or sections, and on wheels for simple repositionings between acts. That meant Quanrud and his sizable crew was unable to use the usual stops and bracings, since mobility was required and nothing could be hidden behind set fronts. There was also a "rake" to be addressed, a tilt to the stage that in this case yields a gradual drop of about six inches between upstage and downstage which normally gives the actors a greater physical range and exposure during their performances. For Noises Off, the rake had to be abandoned so that both "sides" of the set were equally planned, which required the addition of huge leveling platforms before construction could begin.

A literal framework for the play, this amazing and exquisitely conjured set seemed to have a voice of its own. Paired with a clever, tight script, a playful premise, and a diligent team of actors devoted to the humorous dual aspects of their roles, it helps make Noises Off into something quite different and rather fun.