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Rabbit Run introduces audience to unbridled comic hysteria in “Noises Off”

Roy Berko

(Member:  Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association)

Actors know that sometimes, what happens at rehearsals and backstage during a production, is a bigger event than what happens on-stage during a performance.  This idea come to English playwright, Michael Frayn, who, while watching from the wings, experienced the goings on during a staging of his play, “The Two of Us.”  He declared, “It was funnier from behind than from in front.”  This gave him the idea for “Noises Off,” a farce that is now on stage at Rabbit Run Theatre.

The theatre, referred to as “Ohio’s Premiere Barn Theatre,” surrounded by the Madison/Perry area’s agricultural tree farms, nurseries and grape orchards, is a true “old fashioned” summer theatre.  This is a no-frills venue.  The converted barn has no air-conditioning and hard seats (portable pillows are provided).  RR offers a four-production season, consisting of two comedies and two musicals.  A center of community pride, the theatre gets financial and advertising backing from the area’s businesses and residents.

The title, “Noises Off,” comes from a theatrical terms which refers to the theatre sounds which arise from places other than the stage.  And, in “Noises Off,” much of the play within the play, the sounds from off-stage and backstage are often more entertaining than what comes from the play being performed in the acting area.   The plot is similar to George Kelley’s farce, “The Torch-bearers,” which gave birth to a favorite question of actors, “Do you think they noticed?” after things go wrong on stage.  In the Kelley play, this was said following the set falling down when an actor slammed a door too hard and the cast walked over, placed the set upwards, watched it fall over again, and then held up the flats as they said their lines.

“Noises Off” centers on the performance of the first act of a British play which the audience is viewing as a play within a play.  The script being produced is a bad, very bad farce, entitled “Nothing On.”  Even the “fake” play’s program is a program within a program.  An insert into the RR printed program is the Grand Theater’s program for “Nothing On,” which includes the cast listing and fake ads.

Act One is the final rehearsal of “Nothing On.”  And, as happens in farces, everything goes wrong.  Lines are blown, props are misplaced, doors get stuck, actors enter from the wrong places at the wrong times.  It’s a hysterically funny disaster with scantily dressed women, men whose trousers hit the floor to reveal baggie boxer shorts, risqué language and a ridiculous plot.  And, as in this kind of nonsense, there is the most ridiculous of the ridiculous.  In this case, the laugh keynotes are plates of sardines that appear and disappear.  (Yes, this is a farce and definitely not for the uptight.)

The play hasn’t improved much as we find out in Act Two, a matinee performance one month later at a theatre in Ashton-under-Lyne.  For this act the audience is viewing the play from backstage.  The front of the set is now facing toward the backwall and we are exposed to the flats that make up the set, the backs of doors, the prop table, a waiting area for the actors and the stage manager’s station.

The second act is enhanced, not only by the continuing problems with a drunk actor who keeps disappearing in search of booze, but with complicated love and lust relationships.

In Act Three, the play is near the end of its ten-week road run and we are in Stockton-on-Tees.  The personal frictions are so intense that there is a danger that the show will not go on due to in fighting.  Mishap after mishap happens, and attempts to kill and unnerve the members of the cast by each other, aids to make the farcical nature of the play reach its hysterical climax.

This is a farce which depends on realistic character development which leads to laughing not being dependent upon what the actor is doing, but the incongruity of who s/he is with and what s/he is saying and doing.  Slamming doors, double entendres, costume malfunctions and slapstick provide an entire air of ridiculousness, which becomes even more laughable because of the serious intentions of the actors.

This play, with two intermissions, in the hands of a lesser director and cast, could be a long, tedious sit at almost three hours.  But director Ann Hedger and her merry bunch of farcesters, make the time go fast, with laughs rolling quickly one after another.

Farce is hard to do.  Most British farces are impossible for American actors to do as the timing, the accents and the requirement for tongue in cheek humor is prime for the Brits, but almost impossible for their cousins from across the pond.  The RR cast pulls it off with seeming ease.

The accents are consistent and not over done, the realism that leads to humor is well developed, and the pacing is admirable.  Non-actors don’t know how hard it is to ride out a laugh…being sure not to cut it off too early and give the audience the message that if they laugh they will miss the next line.  It’s also difficult to keep in character and not laugh at the ridiculousness of what is going on.  Not to anticipate a fall down the stairs, and not forecasting preset things going wrong, takes great skill.  The RR cast is excellent at playing for laughs without begging for them.

There were times when a little less shouting would have saved the vocal chords of the actors and the attack on the ears of the audience, but all in all, most of what happens on stage is impressive.

Applause to the cast:  Nancy Shimonek Brooks, Dennis R. Dixon, Bob Kilpatrick, Evie Koh, Sandy Kosovich Peck, James Lane, David Malinowski, Roger Principe, and Myrissa Yokie.

Be sure to stay in the theatre during scene changes.  “Noises Off” requires a realistic set.  The one designed by Chris Meyers is outstanding.  Due to the small stage and off-stage space at RR, it was necessary to split the set onto three large wagons which are turned individually to get them reversed back and forth for each of the scenes.  Working like a bunch of teamsters, Caerl Simoncic, Kassie Cudnik, Brian Cervelli, Alex Cervelli, Susie Griffin, Bill Smith and a number of others not named in the program did the changes with ease and lots of muscle.  Good job!

Capsule judgment:  The Rabbit Run production of the farce, “Noises Off,” was well directed, well acted, well technically presented and turned out to be a laugh riot! I saw this show in London was convulsed with laughter.  The PP show had much the same effect on me.

For anyone wanting a fun summer experience, the trip to Madison, the hospitality and hometown welcome of the RR community, as well as the quality of this production, all say, “You all come!”  You won’t regret it.

“Noises Off” runs through June 21, 2014 at Rabbit Run Theatre at 5648 Chapel Road, Madison.  For tickets go to or call 440-428-7092