March 1 Noises off

March 01, 2001

Pumping up the volume

Troupe gets farcical for 'Noises Off"


Up the stairs. Down the stairs. Through the (for now imaginary) doorway. Back again. Pick up the phone. Hang up the receiver.

Sardines on. Sardines off. On stage. Backstage. On stage again. Open the door; it doesn't open. Shut another door; it is stuck open.

Run up stairs, pivot and run downstairs trying to avoid others who are upstairs, about to run downstairs.


It is a frenzy of activity, and Director Dave Dull watches it all before turning to mark tickets while his infant daughter plays a few feet away.


And in a couple of hours, the entire two-story, rotating stage will be dismantled and stored away because pageant contestants need to rehearse on the Kepler Theater stage.

Like the production of "Noises Off" they are about to mount, there is just as much going on behind the scenes as on stage during the Encore Players' production that debuts Friday, March 2, at 8 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College.

A madcap, broad British farce, the play pulls back the curtain on the inner workings of a production of "Nothing On," a fictional play populated with eccentrics.

Encore Players cast members can relate all too well to the hijinks at the heart of "Noises Off."

"Each character represents a stereotype in theater. Usually, you get one per show; in this one, they throw them all together," says Chuck Kopack, who portrays "Nothing On" director Lloyd Dallas. "Those who have been in the theater can sit back and say 'Oh, I've seen that.' "

A logistical nightmare because of its lumbering set, which rotates between on- and off-stage views depending on the act, Dull was attracted to "Noises Off" in part because of the challenges it presents.

Chief among them is pulling off a zany comedy, with its several one-liners, physical comedy and pacing that requires razor-sharp timing.

"Whenever you do physical comedy it adds a lot of difficulty to it," Dull says. "All around, it's a very tough show to do."

So happy together

Since November - a month longer than most Encore Players productions - the nine-member cast has assembled two or three times each week. Working together for so long has created camaraderie on the set.

"The cast is really tight friendship-wise," says Angie Byers, who plays Belinda. "It's been a really nice company to work with and has just been a lot of fun."

As Belinda, Byers has what Dull calls one of the most challenging roles in the show. Her character is trying desperately to keep the show within a show from falling apart, with varying degrees of success.

It's a role that requires a lot of physical preparedness since she ends up shuttling quite often between the first and second floors of the set, which would be hard enough on its own without Byers' fear of heights.

"When I first went up, it was initially 'Whoa' and 'How am I going to do this?' " she recalls. "But when I get in the framework of the character, I don't even think about it."

Dull just hopes people will be intrigued enough to sample what they have to offer. Well-known in theater circles, it was also made into a film starring Carol Burnett and Michael Caine.

The beauty of "Noises Off," Dull says, is its humor.

"I'm a big Neil Simon fan, but this show, the humor is nonstop from the beginning to the end of the show," he says. "It's a different kind of humor, it's a farce, so you're going to have a lot of stuff that's over the top."

After seeing the show 15 years ago, Kopack vowed that if a local production was staged, he would audition because he thought it was so vibrant.

"The show slowly disintegrates through the acts. By the end, it's a total mess," he says. "What people can expect is to laugh. A farce is ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

"This is a farce."

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