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Noises Off

Michael Frayn's farce "Noises Off" opened this past weekend in a dangerously funny production directed by Murray McGibbon at the IU Theatre. During parts of the show a number of people around me were literally gasping for breath.

The story goes that playwright Frayn was backstage at a farce and thought that what he saw going on from his vantage was even funnier than what was happening out front. In the first act of his "Noises Off" we get to see a moderately funny presentation of a drastically underrehearsed company doing final rehearsal of a limp sex farce called "Nothing On." In addition to short time for preparation the company itself has some weaknesses. There's an elderly actress who can't remember her lines or her props, an ingenue who-after doffing most of her clothes-keeps losing her contact lenses and a nearly deaf older actor who's always in danger of sneaking off for a drink.

In the second act Frayn lets us see the play again, but this time it's well into a tour. Namok Bae's set appears to have been spun around and we see the show from back stage. By now weaknesses in the cast and potential pitfalls in the script that were only hinted at in the opening are put to wildly comic use. The nine member IU cast handled their parts with totally appropriate failings of grace and frequent lacks of aplomb. The actors and director had worked out the ins and outs of their roles and seemed to smoothly inhabit their characters. In addition to their solo work, their ensemble work was often breath taking.

By the third act of "Noises Off," we were back out in regular audience position, but well aware of the potential problems backstage. Somehow the anticipation that came with the awareness made things that happened or didn't happen funnier. Indeed, pretty much everything that we even vaguely suspected might occur, did occur but there were always twists and plenty of surprises as well. Eventually the play on stage simply self destructed in an explosion of maximum chaotic comic potential.

The IU Theatre production of Michael Frayn's farce "Noises Off" continues with eight o'clock performances each evening this week.

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