Phoenix Theatre opens its 2010-11 season on August 25 with Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, just possibly the funniest play of the twentieth century. Also, on that day Phoenix Theatre will begin a year long celebration acknowledging it’s latest wonderful achievement: its 90th anniversary.
Frayn’s comic masterpiece pushes farce as far as it can go. Noises Off is being staged for Phoenix Theatre by Matthew Wiener, Producing Artistic Director of Actors Theatre. The play follows the on stage and backstage antics of a down on its luck acting troupe touring in a new, horrendously written sex farce called Nothing On. Each act is packed with more laughs than the one before. The show is complete with slamming doors, characters falling down stairs, windows breaking and a plate of sardines that continuously goes missing, all the wonderful comic creation of set designer Robert Andrew Kovach.
Wiener will work his comic magic with some of the Valley’s favorite performers. Noises Off (and Nothing On) features a very posh, all-star cast, including Leann Dearing, Cathy Dresbach, Robert Kolby Harper, Joseph Kremer, Mike Lawler, Maren Mclean, Andi Watson, Christopher Williams and Luke Young. Watch out, better duck, who knows where those sardines may land? I saw the Sams’ revival in London from the first row and guess where that plate landed? In my very own lap!
Since 1993, Mr. Wiener has directed over twenty productions for Actors Theatre including: Doubt, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman, Benefactors, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Angels in America and, of course, the much loved annual AT A Christmas Carol. Wiener has been a guest lecturer at Arizona State University, University of Arizona, Pima Community College, and Scottsdale Community College. He holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama, where he was the Artistic Director of the Yale Cabaret. Wiener is a proud member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
The Examiner was thrilled to speak with Mr. Wiener about the imminent arrival of Noises Off as well as what Valley audiences may expect from the 2010-11 season at Actors Theatre, it’s very special 25th anniversary. Today we talk about Noises Off.
Q: Former New York Times Theater Critic Frank Rich said that Noises off is “…the funniest play written in my lifetime.” Do you agree?
A: It is certainly one of the funniest plays ever written in the latter half of the twentieth century to be sure. I don’t think many people write real farces anymore. It’s not a form of theater that we see very often these days. I believe that Noises Off is a perfect example of what true farce should be. It provokes convulsive laughter.
Q: Noises Off author Frayn has written a lot of versions of the play, which one are you using?
A: The most recent one. Basically Frayn just kept returning to the play and refining it, again and again, over time. I believe we are using the same version as the Jeremy Sams Broadway and West End revivals from ten years ago.
Q: Rich also wrote that the film version “is one of the worst ever made.” How will you approach Frayn’s iconic farce?
A: In terms of how we are going to approach it? We are going to try to reproduce exactly what Frayn wrote. This is not the kind of play that requires interpretation and/or concept and elaboration. It’s actually challenging enough to the play it as written. We are going to focus on the things that will please audiences, the things that drive farce, ridiculous characters faced with improbable situations. In farce, everything that can go wrong does and the characters all lie about it. Then there’s the play within the play, Nothing On, written as one of the most mediocre of British sex farces. In a British sex farce there’s a bunch of comedic iconography, including lots of slamming doors, lots of people running around in their underwear, lots of pants falling down, lots of people winding up in the wrong bedroom together. It’s all really innocent fun. Those are the kind of things that drive these bedroom farces.
Q: Then there’s that mysterious, sometimes flying plate of sardines! How difficult is it to stage such a physically demanding play?
A: This play is very physically demanding. From the production side, the set has to be built specifically so that all the doors work in the right way. From the actors point of view, there’s a lot of running around and handling of props. The play makes great physical demands on the actors. It’s very hard work but it all pays off, especially in act three. Some of the scenes in act three are among the funniest I have ever seen on stage. It cracks me up every night.
Q: What other theater companies have you worked with when you are not creating stage magic for Actors Theatre?
A: Recently, this past spring, I directed Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The previous year I was out in San Diego at North Coast Repertory Theatre where I directed Shipwrecked which we subsequently did here at Actors Theatre.
Q: Is there anything that you would like to add about Noises Off?
A: Yes, I think people should be prepared to laugh until it hurts!
Phoenix Theatre’s Noises Off will run through September 12, 2010. Hopefully, the management will provide oxygen in the lobby for its audiences gasping for breath from the play’s constant laughter.
Phoenix Theatre opens its extraordinary 90th season with Noises Off, followed by a spectacular array of great musical entertainment. Subscriptions and individual ticket sales for all of the Phoenix Theatre upcoming shows are available by phone at (602) 254-2151 or ON LINE.
Read about Phoenix Theatre’s 2010-11 season, The 2010-11 Season at Phoenix Theatre, Part One and Next Season at Phoenix Theatre, Part Two.
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