By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Montana Actors' Theatre will be serving up platters of sardines, stripping down to undergarments, and bringing to town a taste of old-fashioned British humor in "Noises Off," beginning this week.
MAT's presentation of British playwright Michael Frayn's 1982 farcical comedy hits the stage today at 8 p.m. in the Little Theatre at Montana State University-Northern in a special opening night for Northern Showcase members. The play continues at 8 p.m. on April 22-24, April 29-30 and May 1. The cost of the play is $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.
"It's really good British humor like you'd see on the BBC," said veteran MAT actor Pam Veis. "It's really fun, fun comedy."
She added that the play contains "adult humor" and is "not a children's show." Veis plays Dotty Otley; the twist is that Dotty Otley plays Mrs. Clackett.
"The plot of it is that it's a play within a play. We all play characters playing characters," said director and MAT president Jay Pyette. Pyette plays flustered director Lloyd Dallas as he tries to get his cast in shape for their own play, "Nothing On."
In the first act of "Noises Off," actors rehearse the first act of "Nothing On" on the night before its debut. The second act shows the same act of "Nothing On" a month later, but with the set turned around: The audience sees the antics going on backstage as conflicts between cast members escalate.
The third and final act shows the first act of "Nothing On" once more. The set has been turned around again - what goes on backstage is concealed - and after several weeks together the cast has been turned upside down.
"And you can just imagine what's going on backstage at that point," Pyette said.
"It's a very unique show, but a premise that has been used a number of times before," said MAT actor Sam Stuart, who plays the aged Selsdon Mowbray, an actor teetering somewhere between lovable befuddledness and senility.
"Noises Off" is reminiscent of the plays of Neil Simon, Stuart said.
The play has the hallmarks of British bedroom farce from the 1950s and '60s, including sexual double-entendres, said MAT actor Martin Holt.
"It's like two levels of British comedy, one of them superimposed on the other," he said. "It just becomes a complete mix-up."
"I love it - it's great. Probably the funniest thing you'll ever see next to 'The Complete Works of Shakespeare,'" said James Morth, head of the running crew, referring to the comedy by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield.
Pyette said the cast of nine is mostly made up of MAT veterans, but it is Cheree Bekker's acting debut.
Bekker is taking Pyette's Drama 109 class at MSU-Northern and decided to try out. She plays Belinda, who she said starts out being very nice but turns "kind of nasty" by the end.
"It's a lot of work. It looks so much easier than it is," Bekker said.
With several characters going in and out of the set's seven doors at any one time, performing the play demands perfect timing, said MAT actor Donald Mayer, who plays Frederick Fellowes. Mayer is an employee of the Havre Daily News.
"As far as putting it all together and seeing the big picture, this one is by far my favorite (MAT play)," said Mayer, who drops his trousers during the show as part of the undergarment motif that runs through the play.
"In the name of theater I'll do anything," he quipped.
As that suggests, the play is lighter than many of MAT's previous productions.
"There's not a serious thing about it," Pyette said.
Still, audience members may find food for thought in the provocative narrative structure, Holt said.
"It's definitely deeper than you think ... just because you have these different levels of life and it's hard to tell which one is more real," he said.
Fellowes' obstinate insistence that his director give him a reason for his stage directions in Act I is a case in point: What can be enjoyed simply as another riotous kink in the cast's knot of dysfunction can also be pondered as a meditation on human motivation and divine intent.
"I don't know why the author came into this industry in the first place," says an exasperated Dallas (Pyette). "I don't know why any of us does."