For the writer, comedy is perhaps the hardest thing to create. The variables of timing, dialogue and atmosphere are as fluid as a river, ever changing, ever moving. When a joke doesn’t land, everyone knows it; when a joke works, the atmosphere expands.
And for the Little Theatre’s production of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, the theatrical universe has absolutely expanded.
As Peggie Kaan Dull, playing the role of Dotty Otley, took the stage in the opening act, the tightrope of comedy began; the crowd awaiting theater’s transportation to a different time, a different place, and suddenly, a voice bellowed from among the auditorium seats.
At first, for those who had never seen the production, the voice came as a shock. Who was speaking? What rude audience member was heckling already? But as Dull continued her lines, speaking to the unknown actor among the sea of ticketholders, the room was pulled into a different time, a different place.
Noises Off is a critically acclaimed play about the production of a comedy. Complete with actors calling for lines, questioning the playwright’s vision and bumbling rehearsal flaws, the audience is immediately drawn into a rarely seen side of theater. Chad Ramsey, playing the role of the play-within-the-play’s director Lloyd Dallas, continued with stage directions from the crowd, walking the aisles from his seat in the auditorium to the stage, frustrated in a most compelling manner that all play directors must occasionally feel.
The difficulty of a play like Noises Off comes in comedic timing and the actors’ ability to sell their lines. Though the Little Theatre of Winston-Salem might be a small production company, director Lane Fields and his cast raised this play to the utmost level of professionalism. With the heartbeat of community theater and volunteer support thrumming through the organization, one might buy a ticket expecting second-rate theater, merely a jest and nod to what drama can be. Instead, the great satisfaction of highest-quality actors, intricate set design and prime choice of productions, the Little Theatre raises the bar of community theatre, proving corners need not be cut to produce a fantastic show on a tight budget.
The laughter began almost instantly on Feb. 9, opening night for the Noises Off, and didn’t cease until the standing ovation echoed through the auditorium. The greatest feature of the night came in the actors’ timing. Each scene was done in fluid, flawless strokes. One bumbling mistake that is the play’s essence flowed into the next, keeping the crowd’s laughter rolling almost continuously. While Frayn’s lines act as the first line of comedy and theater, it was the actors’ intricate and immaculate delivery of such lines that brought the writing to its acme of quality and comedy.
Noises Off runs Thursday through Sunday. For tickets and performance schedules, visit thelittletheatreofws.org.
Though there were subtle sputters of opening night nerves, the construction and direction of Noises Off at the Little Theatre proved an equal production to that of any other company since its premiere 35 years ago. With a two-room set, both front and back stage built on a rotating concourse, the attention to detail easily swept viewers into the fictional world. A standout performance was given by Chad Edwards, a teacher at Mount Tabor High School, playing Garry Lejeune, whose delivery reached into the depths of drama and further into comedic theater, and, suffice to say, brought perfection to the role which was mirrored in his fellow players.
Though the night was filled with laughter, sadness struck when eyes read the program which announced that the Little Theatre would be leaving its home of 61 years, forcing the company into an uncertain limbo of having to find a new location. The decision by the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County to vacate the theater on Coliseum Drive was made in early January. The move is part of a restructuring initiative that aims to reduce expenses and consolidate offerings into fewer and more appropriate spaces. With hopeful plans to temporarily relocate the theater closer to downtown, no final decision has yet been established. Even with the news of the theater closing and the Little Theatre’s future uncertain, the season carries on, making the best of the unfortunate situation.
With the classic resounding refrain of sardines and doors, Noises Off shows the company’s fearless plow forward through uncertainty, providing an uproarious production of comedy and theater at its very best, showing just what a little theater can do.