Tuesday, January 31, 2023

"Noises Off" at Lakeshore Players Theatre

The classic farce-within-a-farce Noises Off is a perfect choice for Lakeshore Players Theatre's winter show; two and a half hours of laughter will warm you up on a cold night. It's ridiculously funny and very meta as it gives us a glimpse into what it takes to make a show, and all the things that can go wrong. Fortunately for the real show, things go very right. Everyone in the nine-person cast as an absolute delight (most of them playing actors playing characters), and director Greta Grosch (of Church Basement Ladies fame) keeps everything hurtling towards the finish line in a beautiful display of organized chaos. Add to that the impressive set that you get to watch the hard-working four-person run crew transform not once but twice, and it's just an all-around good time. Sometimes what you need is what one of the characters says in the show: "I don't go to the theater to listen to other people's problems, I go to be taken out of myself, and hopefully not put back in again." This show delivers on that, although you likely will have to be put back in again when you go back out into the cold and not as funny real world. See Noises Off weekends through February 12 at Hanifl Performing Arts Center in lovely White Bear Lake, plus a pay-what-you-can performance on Monday February 6.

Ben Qualley and Kathleen Winters
(photo by M&D Media - Matt Ayers & Dena Denny)
Noises Off was written by English playwright Michael Frayn in the early '80s, and it literally shows us what's happening backstage during the production of a play-within-a-play called Nothing On. The first act is the final dress rehearsal for the play, in which the director continues to give notes to the six actors, as they figure out what to do with their props (sardines! newspapers! boxes! bags!). Act II is a month into their tour, and shows us the play from backstage, with the set turned 180 degrees around. Things are not going so well for our troupe of actors, with affairs, drinking problems, and all kinds of silly misunderstandings wreaking havoc on the performances. Finally, the final act turns this around to the stage again, even further into the run, when everything has gone off the rails and they barely get through the show. It's a wildly entertaining ride.*

John Goodrich, Courtney Klein, and Joren Skov
(photo by Charley Libra)
The delightful cast includes Lois Estell as mother hen Belinda, calling everyone "my dear" or "my sweet;" John Goodrich as the alcoholic veteran actor everyone tries to keep track of; understudy Jackson Hoemann as stagehand Tim (going on with script in hand, which actually worked well in Act III because Tim goes on as an understudy - an understudy playing an understudy, doesn't get much more meta than that!); Courtney Klein as poor put-upon stage director Poppy; James Lane as the actor who can't find the right words when they're not written for him; Waverly McCollum as the charmingly vapid Brooke; Ben Qualley as the hilariously exasperated director; Joren Skov as the actor who grows faint at the sight of violence (of which there is a lot, of the slapstick variety); and last but not least, Kathleen Winters as the veteran actor who needs this show to keep her career going, but is partly responsible for its unraveling. They all work and play well together, are on at all times, and never break character, even during intermission and curtain call.

Kathleen Winters, Joren Skov, and Lois Estell
(photo by Charley Libra)
Another character in this show is the set, which we see from all sides in a literal behind-the-curtain experience. The Nothing On English country home has two stories, connected by a staircase, and eight doors (the first rule of farce: more doors = more funny). During the first intermission (yes, there are two intermissions, but the whole thing runs about two and a half hours and is anything but tedious), the actors begin removing the couch, end table, and other set piece (whilst staying in character). Then the run crew separates the set into three large pieces, rotates each one, and puts them back together again with the back side facing the audience. It's all unfinished wood, misplaced props, and false walls. The second act is mostly a pantomime as we hear the play going on from the stage on the other side of the set, and the actors not on stage try to be silent but still communicate and attempt (unsuccessfully) to prevent disasters. During the second intermission the whole thing is reversed again, back to the front of the set. The cast is dressed in fun '60s costumes for the play-within-the-play, and in '80s looks outside of the play. (Scenic design by Dave Pust, costume design by Bronson Talcott.)

Lakeshore Players Theatre's ambitious 70th season is going swimmingly well, with the hilarious and well executed Noises Off being my favorite show so far this season. And stay tuned for Calendar Girls and La Cage Aux Folles, both fun and heart-warming shows (and both of which might show a little skin, even in the suburbs).


Join me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Bloggers for a special event at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres! Get $20 off the ticket price for the March 4 matinee performance of the regional premiere of the super fun and heart-warming musical THE PROM, and stick around after the show for a talk-back with some of the cast. Find more info in the Facebook event here, and purchase discount tickets using code TCTB1 or by clicking on this link (discount valid for March 4 1pm performance only).