Theater people call them "war stories" — the endless slips and goofs that plague live performance. An actor forgets to take off his glasses and enters as a medieval figure in fashionable modern eyewear. Michael Frayn's award-winning 1982 comedy Noises Off, recently on the boards at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, might be considered the mother lode of all war stories.
The set is a two-story interior with seven doors — convenient for a knockabout farce. Dotty (Tracey E. Collins), the housekeeper, enters and goes through some business involving a telephone and a plate of sardines. She is interrupted by a loud voice from the back of the theater. Lloyd (Mike Harkins), the irascible director, is trying to put his cast through its paces. We are watching a dress rehearsal of a farcical play-within-the-play called Nothing On.
As we watch the rehearsal and become familiar its story, we learn about the actors playing the characters. Garry (an eloquently clueless Gary Rucker) enters for a tryst with his sweetheart Brooke (Brittany Chandler). They think the house is empty, since the owners are away in Spain, but Dotty is there. Garry and Brooke have barely gotten to the upstairs bedroom when the owners — Frederick (Jimmy Murphy) and wife Belinda (Trina Beck) — return from a romantic weekend. Also, a burglar (Michael Martin) breaks in.
Take the two couples and add assistant directors Poppy (Chrissy Garrett Decker) and Tim (Justin Bupp), and you've got the ingredients for comic chaos.
In Act 2 we see the same farce, but from backstage a month later. Our knowledge of the play is sufficient for us to gather what's happening on stage, which we can't see. This act is rife with sight gags, some quite elaborate, and frustrated romances and tensions among the cast of the play-within-a-play.
In Act 3, we watch Nothing On from the front of the stage. Now, the play's tour is nearly finished and the narrative is garbled beyond repair.
Director David Hoover gathered a talented cast and created an amiable and hilarious production. The script is hard to follow at times. Logic is essential in farce, and some of the twists seemed illogical. Also, two hours-plus is a long stretch for one joke, no matter how cleverly constructed. — Dalt WONK