School of Theatre Arts delivers Noises Off with a bang at Wimberly
By Jessica Ullian
Producing Noises Off, the award-winning comedy by Michael Frayn, is always a trial. The highly physical farce tells the story of a theater company putting on a chaotic show, and it sends the real-life actors up and down stairs, through windows, and behind a mock stage. Director Sid Friedman, a professor at the CFA school of theatre arts, compares the process to building a Swiss watch. “There are hundreds of tiny little parts,” he says, “all of which have to be fitted precisely or the thing won’t run.”
Friedman has directed the play before, however, and the school’s senior acting majors had specifically requested it. The piece was also appropriately funny and celebratory for the College of Fine Arts, which is commemorating its 50th anniversary this year. When Jim Petosa, director of the school of theatre arts, was deciding on the first BU show to run at the new Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, Noises Off — which opens on Thursday, December 9 — was, he says, “an inevitable selection.”
“We’re really excited about it,” Petosa says of CFA’s inaugural performance in the new theater. “This has been a long time coming.”
Noises Off is cause for excitement in itself — both Friedman and Petosa regard the Tony-nominated play as one of the best farces ever written. The elaborately crafted piece follows the production of a play called Nothing On, taking the audience from the rehearsals to the performance — both heavy with behind-the-scenes drama. In the first act, the audience watches the actors rehearse on the set of Nothing On; in the second, they get the backstage view of a disastrous Wednesday matinee; in the third, the perspective switches again. In the meantime, the actors are dealing with a washed-up leading lady, a drunken romantic lead, a frazzled stage manager, and an egotistical director — most of whom are engaging in covert affairs with at least one other cast member. Extremely slapstick and intricately choreographed, the show is labor-intensive but widely considered worth the effort.
“There is an extraordinary intelligence behind the humor,” Friedman says. “The laughter is made doubly funny by the ‘I can’t believe anybody could have contrived that’ response.”
“We haven’t done something that is quite so outrageously funny in a long time,” Petosa adds.
The prospect of performing at the Calderwood Pavilion, on Tremont Street, is exhilarating as well. The long-anticipated arrival on the Boston theater scene includes two new theaters and several smaller performance spaces. Managed by the University-affiliated Huntington Theatre Company in collaboration with the Boston Center for the Arts, it has already hosted shows by several major theater groups.
Noises Off is the University’s only scheduled production at the 360-seat Virginia Wimberly Theatre this year, but Petosa says they are hoping to bring more pieces to the space in subsequent years. The new pavilion offers additional training opportunities for students, he says — it allows them to perform in a medium-sized theater, unlike the 1,000-seat Boston University Theatre or its 100-seat Studio 210. In addition, the new venue gives the school more flexibility to run shows for a longer period of time — Noises Off will run for two weeks, instead of the usual one.
Plus, “it’s a honey of a theater for an audience,” Friedman says. “It’s attractive, it’s got good sightlines for every seat in the house, and the acoustics are fine.”
The actors in Noises Off will test that theory, among others, when they move the production from rehearsal over to the Wimberly. Initiating the new theater on behalf of the University has led to “a lot of excitement in the rehearsal hall,” Friedman says, as well as some trepidation.
“You never know, when you move into a new space, exactly how things are going to fit,” he says. “However carefully you plan, you will always have surprises. You just need to keep that flexible attitude and know that whatever comes up, you’ll find a way to adjust it and make the show work.”
Friedman says that for this show, it’s a worthwhile effort. “When and if you do get all the parts into place,” he says, “it’s just kind of a wonder to watch.”
Noises Off will be presented Thursdays through Sundays, from December 9 to 19 at the Virginia Wimberly Theatre at the Calderwood Theatre Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston. For times and tickets, call 617-933-8600 or visit www.BostonTheatreScene.com.
3 December 2004