Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How To Lose Your Mind Doing a Play

Well friends, given that I have posted rather regularly lately on various subjects and topics you can probably guess that I have been otherwise occupied.  In fact, this week is production week on the play I have been in charge of for the past 6 weeks and all our hard work is finally going to pay off on Friday night when "Noises Off!", a Chillicothe High School production, opens for our lovely little town at 7:30 pm.  'Hard work' seems like an understatement...it has been like running the gauntlet this time, easily the hardest play I've ever attempted to direct.  I'm not sure if it's the props, or the situation, or the fact that the set needs to be able to rotate 180 degrees...but it has been a trial by fire, and all of us have stepped up our game to produce something wonderfully funny and entertaining.  So you can see why I might have been busy...but now I am back and ready to share observations on the film version of this hit play.  So settle in and grab some sardines, we're about to have Noises Off.

The film opens at the opening night performance of Broadway's new comic play, "Nothing On" - horrid little British sex farce where men drop their trousers and women run around in their underwear.  Everyone seems pumped for the play to begin...except for Lloyd Dallas, the director.  You see, Lloyd has been with this play since it's humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa where during their final dress rehearsal they couldn't even get through the first act without stopping about 20 times.  At that point, it was simply due to the difficult nature of the play...but over time relationships deteriorate and backstage dramas begin to eclipse what happens on stage.  First there is Dotty Otley, a middle-aged and absent minded actress who can't remember her cues and is on-again-off-again with Garry Lejune, an arrogant actor who never seems to be able to finish a sentence.  Then there is Frederick Fellows, a competent but meek actor who always has some inane question about plot or blocking, who is paired with Belinda Blair, an excellent actress who adores helping her cast mates but who also can't seem to stay out of their business.  Finally there is Selsdon Mowbray, an elderly actor who is prone to drinking and cannot remember his lines or his moves.  Add to the mix Poppy Norton-Taylor, a meek and mousy assistant stage manager who is secretly involved with Lloyd, Tim Allgood, the head stage manager who is high strung and scatterbrained, and Brooke Ashton, a dumb blonde of an actress who is also secretly involved with Lloyd, and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.  So we follow the company through three different performances of the play and watch as their perfectly-planned little play finally falls into turmoil.

Noises Off is a really funny film based on a tremendously funny play, and I'm not just saying that because I'm currently doing it.  Yes, the play is better (you cannot beat seeing this amount of chaos on stage live) but the film is a lovely supplement because, as we all know...live performances of our favorite plays don't happen every day.  Every person is the cast is pitch perfect and make the film worth watching for them alone.  Michael Caine as Lloyd straddles a fine line between egomania and insanity as he tries and tries to effectively direct a play and yet lets his own issues get in the way.  Likewise, Carol Burnett as Dotty nails it and manages to be both funny and sympathetic while also coming off as completely selfish and like a diva.  It's an amazingly complex role.  John Ritter and Christopher Reeve as Garry and Freddie respectively are also wonderfully well suited, particularly Reeve who plays completely against type as the nerdy and nervous Freddie.  Rounding out the cast is Denholm Elliott as Selsdon (brilliant), Julie Haggerty as Poppy (delightful), Marilu Henner as Belinda (charming), Nicollette Sheridan (dumb and ditzy to perfection), and Mark Linn-Baker (delightfully scattered) and each of them sells the premise.  The only thing missing is the live audience laughing with you which kinda neuters the chaos somewhat.  But, like I said, the film is a good stand-in for the live perfomance when you need a fix.  And I only hope that our production reaches the dizzing heights of previous productions, film or otherwise.  Like I said, this is the hardest play I've ever done...but it has also been the most fun.

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