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|October 23-29, 2008
Proper British buffoonery
The Denver Center regales the Lords and Ladies with their new comedy
by Gary Zeidner
Let’s have three cheers for the English. Hip, hip hurray! — and so forth. Sure they have a penchant for taxation without representation that cost them the New World (because let’s face it, people will find a way to worship in secret if need be, but once you start hitting them in their wallets you’re already on the road to ruin). Their dental hygiene would appall a long-time wino from South Philly. Their idea of cuisine is so demented that serving a prisoner of war English fare has been forbidden by the Geneva Convention. But, man, those crazy Limeys sure do know their way around a farce.
One could go all the way back to Shakespeare to illustrate the English facility with comedy. Without the Bard perpetually dressing women as men and concealing children’s identities from their parents, Three’s Company would have been a drama. As most people these days aren’t overly familiar with Shakespeare — or even Wilde — let’s give some credit to more modern English comedic triumphs conveniently available on your very own TV.
The Monty Python comedy troupe took on every seemingly sacred topic from the life of Christ to the legend of King Arthur and clothed them in fool’s regalia. Their television show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, was many Americans’ first exposure to modern British humor. Plumbing the limitless depths of surreal hilarity in the retail world gave us Are You Being Served? Chronicling, albeit briefly, the lives of four stereotypical students (a hippie, a punk, a ladies’ man and a wannabe radical) resulted in the classic The Young Ones. Taking the Friends formula, dialing down the stupidity and revving up the raunchiness yielded the far superior Coupling. And the list goes on and on.
As Shakespeare showed, British comedy is as at home on stage as it is on the telly. Witness Michael Frayn’s brilliant Noises Off. First performed in 1982, Noises Off is a timeless classic that blends physical and verbal humor, uses familiar tropes like the aforementioned mistaken identity and includes just enough titillation to immediately set itself apart from its more Puritan, American counterparts.
Any semi-competent theater company can put on a successful Noises Off. The play is simply that good. It takes a great theater company, however, to put on a superlative production of this show, and the Denver Center Theatre Company fits that bill perfectly. Even after six years as a theater critic, I cannot get over just how good the DCTC is. Key positions in the management structure change hands, actors and directors come and go, but the quality of the DCTC’s productions never falters. Noises Off is simply the continuation of their decades-long track record of exceptional work.
What makes Noises Off especially interesting to me is its structure. Noises Off tells the story of a production of the fictitious play, Nothing On. This play-within-a-play device, which can often be grating, is spot on here. It is also a play in three Acts with each Act showcasing a different time in Nothing On’s development. Act I takes place as the director, Lloyd Dallas (Sam Gregory), and his cast work late into the wee hours during their last rehearsal before opening night. Act II, the best Act of the show, occurs on opening night and is shown from the backstage perspective. Act III returns the audience to its traditional vantage point in front of the stage on the final night of the play-within-a-play’s run.
Scenic Designer Vicki Smith deserves an award for her work on Noises Off. Creating a set that allows for action to occur meaningfully on stage and backstage while allowing the audience to simultaneously see both areas seems a daunting task, but Smith nails it (pun intended). In addition to the always amazing Gregory in the self-absorbed director’s role, Noises Off showcases David Ivers in one of his funniest turns to date, accomplished television and film actress, Kate Skinner, and Kate MacCluggage playing one of the least dressed and most hilarious dumb blondes you’re ever likely to see.
If you want to forget your troubles and laugh your head off for a few hours, you won’t find a better place to do it than at Noises Off.
On the Bill:
Noises Off plays through Nov. 1 at the Denver Performing Arts Center’s Stage Theatre, 13th and Curtis Streets, Denver, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.
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