The Tennessean Preview: NOISES OFF
The farce is strong with Nashville Rep for Noises Off
Amy Stumpfl | The Tennessean
There’s a special sort of magic surrounding theatrical farce, and “Noises Off” is one of the very best. So it’s a good thing that Nashville Repertory Theatre has its own magician in resident scenic designer Gary C. Hoff.
Michael Frayn’s riotous show-within-a-show follows the on-stage antics — and backstage bedlam — of a third-rate British acting troupe that’s struggling to stage a feeble romp called “Nothing On.” Throw in a bit of jealousy, unrequited love and plenty of slamming doors, and you have a sure-fire recipe for nonstop laughs.
But such high-octane fun requires tremendous precision. And complicating matters is the fact that Nashville Rep will present this production in TPAC’s intimate Johnson Theater, as opposed to its 2005 staging, which took place in the Polk Theater.
“It’s really quite an endeavor, sort of the Titanic of sets,” Hoff says. “It’s one of the biggest sets we’ve done in the Johnson Theater — a 34-foot revolve, and 18 feet tall. We’re treating it as a remount, so we want to keep everything in the same position that we had it in the Polk Theater. We just have to shrink it down. Of course, you can only go so small when you’re talking about seven doors, two sets of stairs, and everything else.
“And these aren’t just any doors,” he adds. “They’re doors that won’t close, or won’t open, or maybe have handles that fall off. It all has to be incredibly specific in order for the show to run seamlessly. So little things, like where to put the prop table, become a big deal.”
Cori Anne Laemmel, left, Morgan Davis, Martha Wilkinson and Brian Russell perform in "Noises Off." (Photo: Michael Scott Evans)
With so many actors coming and going, usually at break-neck speed, there’s an added focus on safety.
“It’s really a monumental show — just brutal on the set and props, because there’s so much running around and falling down stairs,” Hoff says. “So everything has to be much sturdier than what we would normally do. We take a lot of extra care with this one, making sure everything is safe and secure.”
But for Martha Wilkinson, who is reprising the role of “Dotty,” all that running around is half the fun.
“Farce is really one of my favorite genres because it requires such great teamwork,” she says. “The fast pace, all the physical gags — when it’s done well, it’s absolutely hilarious. I love this show, and I had such a blast playing Dotty last time. It’s sort of like when you ride a roller coaster; it’s so much fun that you can’t wait to take that crazy ride again.
“It’s always exciting to see how Gary will put it all together, and from what I’ve seen, this one will be pretty amazing. And I really like the idea of the audience being up so close to the action in the Johnson Theater. When you think about it, this is supposed to be a small touring company, so the Johnson really lends itself to that.”
Wilkinson is joined on stage by a solid ensemble of Nashville favorites, including Steven Kraski, Cori Anne Laemmel, Jenny Littleton, Eric D. Pasto-Crosby, Brian Webb Russell and Jacob York, as well as Nashville Rep newcomers, Morgan Davis and Chase Miller.
“It’s such a great cast,” Wilkinson says. “It’s really a treat to work with such an amazing ensemble. There are so many great moments — the opening scene gives the audience a look at what the rehearsal process is really like sometimes, which is so much fun. The second act cranks up and runs like a machine — just hilarious. And by the time we get to the third act, it’s all fallen apart in the best possible way. There’s nothing quite like it, it’s just like magic.”