British playwright Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” one of the truly great contemporary farces, is just about indestructible. The script is packed with laughs that come from pratfalls, doubletakes, sexual puns, caustic wit and hilariously flawed characters.
Audiences have loved it ever since it opened in 1982. Several local theaters have had a go at it, and all of them had successful runs.
The Chanticleer Theater’s version, which opened Friday night, is blessed with particularly good character actors, and director Jonathan Wilhoft understands the crucial aspect of timing. The result is a show that is highly likely to crack you up, repeatedly, at length, right up to the final curtain.
Frayn’s framework is brilliant. Act 1 presents an acting troupe at dress rehearsal, which isn’t going well. The audience sees how the play, a silly comedy within a silly comedy, is supposed to go. But the personal flaws of cast and crew keep it from going that way.
Act 2 turns the set around 180 degrees. We see a performance from backstage, where a combination of bad romances and alcohol consumption, layered on top of all those personal quirks, causes things to go screamingly off the rails onstage and off.
The third act turns the set around again for curtain-up in another town. By now people are into hysterical crying and sabotaging each other, but the show must go on — even if it morphs into every actor’s nightmare.
The massive two-story set includes eight doors, a large window that opens on hinges and a massive staircase, all of which get serious workouts. This raises a technical challenge, since it all has to be turned around and reassembled during intermission. Twice. The one big drawback to a Thursday dress rehearsal was long intermissions, which pushed the show past 2 hours and 45 minutes. The fun was worth the wait, and the pacing within acts was brisk enough, but the night got long.
Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the best bits a second time, they were so wickedly funny.
Ron Hines projects instant authority and exhausted patience as the frazzled director of the show, whose tendency to sleep with co-workers unfortunately comes to light.
Laureen Pickle, as a scatterbrained actress playing a housekeeper, had me in stitches with her thick Cockney accent, her tendency to misplace props and her wayward love life.
Rodger Gerberding was truly impressive as an over-the-hill, half-deaf, alcoholic actor who often disappears and misses entrances.
They’re all good, really, though one or two were hard to understand at times. They must go home bruised and battered after the frenetic action in the second and third acts, which includes ax-wielding, dodging a cactus, getting tangled in telephone wires, tripping down that long staircase and slip-falling on wayward plates of sardines.
Their thespian purple hearts are the price they pay nightly for making a lot of people laugh and forget their troubles for a while.
* * * * *
What: Stage comedy
Where: Chanticleer Theater, 803 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs
When: Tonight through Nov. 24. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: $20 adults, $16 senior citizens, $12 students
Information: 712-323-9955 or chanticleertheater.com