Durango High School's Noises Off" shares a current problem with Toyota's runaway Prius. Once started, you find
yourself screeching ahead in overdrive.
Fast, furious and often shrill, the opening night performance of Noises Off" took off at high speed and ran away with
Acts I and II. Not until the beginning of Act III did the performance adjust its speed and take a much needed breath.
When stagehand Tim Allgood (played by Jason Govreau) quietly walks on stage, there's a welcome pause.
Reluctantly, he explains a temporary delay. Then he's interrupted by a piercing loudspeaker - with the same message.
It's a great gag and a payoff for an earlier bit in Act II. Linking comic bits from Acts I, II and III is what gives
this farce so much punch.
Many of those nuggets got lost in Friday's frenetic pace. Zippy line readings, fast crosses and nimble prop tricks look
virtuosic, and they are craftily performed by director Mona Wood-Patterson's ensemble cast. But too fast a delivery and
the play's deft humor can get lost.
British playwright Michael Frayn's brilliant 1982 farce is a backstage comedy about an English theater company on tour.
The work made its Broadway debut in 1983 and has been performed by pros and amateurs ever since. In the original
version, a fictional third-rate company takes a fourth-rate play, Nothing On," around England's villages. The Durango
production has moved to the American Midwest and tours Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Topeka.
That's the key to the old-fashioned, three-act structure, not to mention the core conceit. Each act takes place in a
different town, and the play-within-a-play, of course, gets worse, not better.
Act I opens as a technical rehearsal devolves into one mishap after another. If you don't know the play-within-the-play
plot, Frayn's opening scene should quickly make it clear. Famous actress Dotty Otley enters as Mrs. Clackett (Olivia
Talley) and can't remember her prop cues. Director Lloyd Dallas (Conor May) takes her to task by shouting from the
audience. It's a marvelous device, and on opening night, May and Talley effectively rendered the first twist,immediately setting up the two-tiered premise.
As the so-called rehearsal unfolds, we get a glimpse of what Nothing On" is supposed to be - a romantic comedy set in
a country house with a little tryst, some deceit and plenty of subterfuge involving all seven doors on stage. We also
peer into company relationships that complicate things further - on and off stage.
Act II offers the most famous Fraynsian twist; the entire set is turned around to reveal the backstage. Now in
Cleveland, the company opens the same Act I material from a new perspective. Behind the carpentry, offstage
relationships become more tangled. The inner play's director returns from another troubled production, Shakespeare's
Richard III." There are some nice theater jokes in the text, but they got buried Friday night in the mayhem.
The actors, however, delivered a choreographic tour-de-force in the form of stage combat. The down side was its
relentlessness - continuous running, bumping and smack-down fighting. Individual physical gags were funny, but overall,the action suffered from internal combustion and Frayn's humor eventually disappeared in the pileup.
Act III opened with the one quiet moment mentioned above. Now in Topeka, Kan., the company begins Nothing On" again,but nothing works. Props go missing, actors miss cues, the elderly Shakespearean alcoholic Selsdon Mowbray who plays
the burglar (Quinn Kuntz) is so late a substitution has to be found. Here, the Durango players paused a bit to pull off
a significant bit of comic mishap.
Frayn's conclusion is a comedic wonder. Kudos to the actors for keeping the specter of befuddlement alive even in the
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.