When you think of the word “farce,” what comes to mind? Slamming doors, probably. Comedic intrigues, mixups and earnest humans finding themselves in ridiculous situations? Check. Michael Frayn’s 1982 hit British farce “Noises Off” has all that and more (including a vexing plate of sardines), and has become a classic of the genre – perhaps one of the quintessential theater comedies. The Pear Theatre is currently offering its own take on the perennial favorite through Oct. 1.
“Noises Off” is in fact a farce-within-a-farce, following a fairly hapless English theater troupe as they attempt to stage and tour the risque comedy “Nothing On.” While the-show-within-a-show may be a cornball flop, the real laughs come from watching the fictional cast and crew behind the scenes, as they struggle to contain their foibles, screw-ups, struggles and, well, drama – both on stage and off. The amusement that ensues is not just fun for the audience but also for the real-life cast, all of whom have no doubt experienced at least some degree of theater-related mayhem over the course of their careers.
In the Pear’s production, Kyle Dayrit (double cast with Bryan Moriarty) plays the leading role of Lloyd Dallas, the troupe’s fiery-tempered director.
“He’s a hotshot in the theater community in the '70s, in London, and he is very good at what he does. He’s kind of a cheater, ultimately, which we learn throughout the show. He’s a womanizer, and short-fused,” Dayrit said of his character’s frustrations. “He’s dealing with actors who are older, some who are not as quick to the draw, and trying to balance it all.”
One of Dayrit's favorite scenes is when Lloyd has to work with one of his actors, Freddie (Michael Rhone), trying to help him understand his character’s motivations. As an actor who’s been on the receiving end of such advice in the past, Dayrit said he enjoys the chance to perform in the director's role. “I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve done this before,’” he laughed. “It’s really fun to play the other side of it. I think directors are amazing at what they do.”
“Noises Off” is directed by Katie O’Bryon Champlin, who’s become something of a go-to expert for farce on the local theater scene. Earlier this year, she directed “The Play That Goes Wrong” for Palo Alto Players, another uproarious British play-within-a-play, which also counted Dayrit among its cast members. That positive experience was part of what inspired him to join “Noises Off” and have the opportunity to create comedy gold with Champlin again.
“I love working with Katie; she just understands comedy so well. ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ was a big undertaking and after doing that one I really trusted her,” he said, adding that it’s a joy witnessing “a master at their craft.”
Joining Dayrit, Moriarty and Rhone in the cast are Judith Miller, Chris Mahle, Kristin Walter, Natalie To, Vivienne Truong, Jordan Goodwin, Tannis Hanson, Brandon Silberstein and Ken Boswell, many of whom are also be familiar faces to local theatergoers (double-cast members also serve as understudies for other parts). When putting together the cast, actors were tested on their group improv skills. Finding the right balance of chemistry, flexibility and demonstration of emotion was key, particularly for the critical second act, which Dayrit said Champlin likens to a ballet, and relies on the performers “showing the audience something without saying anything. It’s really fun,” he said.
There’s fun to be had in the staging as well, with the theater’s intimate space being used “in innovative and unprecedented ways,” according to the show’s press release.
The Pear is a small-yet-flexible black-box – something the Mountain View theater company has been able to leverage when making production decisions, allowing unique configurations. For “Noises Off,” Dayrit said Champlin and The Pear's artistic director, Sinjin Jones, have come up with novel ways to tackle some of the show’s considerable technical demands (to allow this, ticket sales per performance are being limited, and two additional performances have recently been added due to popular demand). He also said the production includes other elements that help immerse audience members in the show’s late 1970s setting.
He spoke with this news organization at the start of the show’s sold-out opening weekend, after having successfully completed a preview performance the evening before.
“The energy was palpable. ‘Noises Off’ is really well known … but we had a lot of people who had never seen it on stage before. Everything was fresh for them,” he noted of the preview night’s crowd. “Just having those laughs go on the whole time is amazing.”
“Noises Off” runs Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Oct. 1 at the Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View. Additional performances will also be held Sat., Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $38-$40. thepear.org.