I wonder how hard it is to pull off a farce on stage and have the audience laughing throughout the show. It looks, from the third row, as if the whole play is lurching out of control and about to spill over into the aisles at any moment. And yet, in reality it has to be just the opposite. If it isn't as precise as a finely tuned instrument it could easily turn into a cacophonous mess.
All this is by way of saying how pleased I was tonight with SRT's production of Noises Off. Lurch it did, but with impeccable timing and incredible energy. It's a backstage story, so it's another example of actors portraying actors, which is always fun to watch. You see the same first act in dress rehearsal, then in the middle of its run, and then in the final performance.
The centerpiece is the middle act (they're all called Act I), in which the set is wheeled around so that you see the production from backstage. It's almost entirely silent, done in whispers and mime, but the audience tonight roared throughout. There's so much business going on that different parts of the theater are likely to be laughing at different things.
By the final act, you're familiar with the actors, the characters they're playing, and the characters in the play-within-the-play. Each gag and every line has to be consistent with what you've learned about them throughout the first two acts. And when things start to go wrong onstage, you can almost predict how they're going to handle it. Even so, the surprises never stop, and I guess that's one of the secrets to successful comedy.
It's been a long time since I've laughed that hard for that long. It was fun, but it was exhausting. The packed house was appreciative of the efforts of the cast, who must have been exhausted themselves by the time they took their final bows.