…not at its finest.
Okay. So, is it safe to say that those of us who love theatre have seen at least one production of Michael Frayn’s now classic comedy? I think so. The play premiered in 1982, across the pond, ran five years to rave reviews – Critic Frank Rich called it ‘the funniest play written in my lifetime’ – and has become a reliable staple of both professional and community theatres in the years since. Many theatres have done the show multiple times and why not? This play within a play, which Frayn has been updating in the years since opening, keeping it timely and relevant, is a classic, utterly reliable farce.
Act One: Technical rehearsal, front of house. We’re introduced to the cast and the silly door farce they’re working on – ‘it’s all doors and sardines, love, doors and sardines.’ The cast totters on the edge of pulling it off, but we know trouble is brewing. In Act Two, the pot begins to boil over as the set is reversed and we’re treated to the show from the backstage POV. By Act Three, all hell has broken loose as we again view the show from the audience’s perspective. It’s a great concept, one that Frayn was inspired to write while watching rehearsals of his own play from the backstage; he said, “I just knew a play set backstage would be very funny.” He was right, of course.
The cast play English actor types and must have some serious physical comedy chops. Timing is key. Perhaps just as important but hardier to quantify is the elusive ability to ‘hold stage’ – the sort of confidence in oneself that demands attention even as the madness swirls around them. Sadly, that’s where some of the key performances at this production fall short. I admit it – I was disappointed. (And spoiled perhaps, by the outstanding production that was Peter and the Starcatcher earlier in the year. But that’s hardly fair, is it? Each show to be judged on its own merits, after all.)
But some of the actors do pull it off – project confidence and competence, that is. Emily Kimbell as the clueless Brooke is always on point. Michelle Mason too. Charles Ferguson is a quietly commanding presence. And Andi Laaker is, as always, perfect. The word on the street is that she is about to leave our area. She will be missed.
I’ll give points to the directing team of Tony Daniel and Terri Whitley for keeping the chaos (mostly) under control because that is a tall order. If a few beats were slurred and run through then I suppose that’s the nature of this beast. And of course high, high marks to Lance Smith who designed and built the rotating set. Now, me, personally, I like to see the set change and I do think it’s a shame it was hidden behind the curtain during intermission. Nonetheless, a big pat on the back to everyone for what must have been the most involved set of the season. High marks, in fact, to NTC for even attempting this show, for it isn’t an easy one. NTC continues to take risks and challenge themselves and for that, all the plates of sardines that can be summoned.