Farce within a farce brings confusion, fun to HCC stage


Howard Live

May 13, 2004|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At Howard Community College, a troupe of actors is performing a farce called Noises Off about a troupe of actors performing a farce called Nothing On. Confusing? Maybe, but it's also hilarious.

In Michael Frayn's comedy set in England, Dottie Otley has organized a touring production to make money for her retirement. She will be playing Mrs. Clackett, a comic housekeeper.

The curtain opens on an eight-door, two-level set. We're watching a rehearsal of the first act. It's going badly. The production has had only two weeks of rehearsal and is due to open the next night.

Mrs. Clackett's rich employers have moved to Spain to escape income tax problems and have put the house up for sale. A real estate agent, Roger Tramplemain, supposing the place empty, enters with a young woman named Vicki -- object: sex. It's Mrs. Clackett's day off, but, unknown to Roger, she has come in to watch TV.

Another couple enters -- the owners, Flavia and Philip Brent. They have come back to England surreptitiously and are planning a bit of sex themselves. Finally, a burglar enters, intending to sack the house.

The usual frantic action results. Housekeeper, randy couples and burglar are unaware that the others are present. There is a little disrobing and a lot of rushing through doors. After many near misses and misunderstandings, all characters come together and the sparks fly.

Unfortunately the rehearsal is always being interrupted.

There are errors that the director, Lloyd Dallas, has to correct, and the actors are indulging in episodes of temperament.

The audience gets to know their quirks and observes the emotional currents that flow among them.

It appears, for example, that there is an affinity between Dottie Otley and Gary Lejeune, the actor who plays Roger.

Frederick Fellowes, who portrays Philip Brent, has been deserted by his wife. He is being mothered by Belinda Blair (his stage wife, Flavia).

The director himself is having an affair with Brooke Ashton, who plays Vicki -- and, as we learn later, with someone else in the company. Even the stage manager and his assistant are drawn into the emotional mix.

Act II takes place backstage, during a matinee performance on the road. The audience is looking at the back of the Act I set. In many theaters, accomplishing this effect would take some ingenuity on the part of the set designer and a lot of hard work by the stage crew.

But at Smith Theatre, which is blessed with a revolving stage, it is accomplished with ease.

The farce is now being acted on the far side of the wall. On the near side, the actors, between frantic entrances and exits, give way to jealousies and misunderstandings. The atmosphere is alive with fallout from affairs both real and imagined.

Act III shows an actual performance on the road, during which things go from bad to hilarious-worse.

Under Susan G. Kramer's inventive direction, an effective and energetic cast keeps the action moving briskly. Listing them can be confusing, because the names occur on three levels: the real, or Howard County, actors; the stage actors, and the parts they play in the farce. Sorting them out, they are: Kramer (as Dottie Otley, who plays Mrs. Clackett), Anthony Scimonelli (Gary Lejeune, playing Roger Templeman), Janelle Cree (Brooke Ashton, playing Vicki), Michael Avolio (Frederick Fellowes, as Philip Brent), Melissa Paper (Belinda Blair, as Flavia Brent) and Bill Stanley (Selsdon Mowbray, playing the burglar).

Adam Grabau brings authority and a fine comic sense to the role of the director, Lloyd Dallas, and David Caulder shows acting ability beyond his years as Tim Allgood, the stage manager. Mary Beth Wood, playing his assistant, Poppy Norton-Taylor, keeps her character's secret well and explodes at the right moment.

The production offers a few extras: The young performers who play the backstage crew do some amusing by-play before the show and between the acts. During the second intermission, they distribute make-believe programs of the make-believe play.

Howard Community College presents a Student-Alumni Arts production of Michael Frayn's "Noises Off" at 8 p.m. tonight, tomorrow and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in Smith Theatre, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. Tickets $12 ($8 students). Reservations: 410-772-4900.

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