If actor Nathanael Lathrop gets through “Noises Off” in one piece it will be a minor miracle.
The current production at the College of the Siskiyous, “Noises Off,” opening April 13, follows actors in their antics both front and backstage as they attempt to get through the first act of a British sex farce called “Nothing On.” Lathrop’s own backstage antics have him tumbling up and down stairs and at one point dangling upside down from a ladder.
Lathrop, no stranger to physical comedy, was the ultra-limber scarecrow in last season’s production of “Wizard Of Oz.” But he admits that his current role as the dim-witted actor Frederick, who’s prone to pratfalls, “takes things to a whole new level.”
Judging from the rehearsals I watched of the backstage portion of the play, there is endless bickering, flirting, bouts of jealousy, and drinking. Small wonder, then, that things do not go well with the onstage production.
The inspiration for this play came when the playwright, Michael Frayn, was watching a production of one of his comedies from backstage and came to the realization that what was going on among the actors backstage was funnier than what was happening onstage.
In “Noises Off” the actors backstage seem to be in constant motion, whether they’re stumbling up and down stairs, fighting each other or crawling around on their hands and knees to find an actor’s missing contact lenses. The dialogue is communicated in backstage whispers.
So it’s appropriate that the director for this production is actually the COS Theatre Department’s choreographer, Christian Richards, who’s making his directorial debut here.
“I’m coming at this production from a different perspective than most directors,” he says. “First we worked out the blocking, choreographing each actor’s movement, then worked out the characterizations based on that movement.”
His choreography amounts to a form of organized chaos. (He noted with some relief that so far there have been only two unplanned collisions between the actors, and a few minor bruises.) The chaos builds to a crescendo in the final scenes, when all the backstage brouhaha causes “Nothing On” to fall apart, with the actors wandering on and off the set almost at random and making up lines off the top of their heads.
“Noises Off” provides a fascinating glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the theater world. It’s exaggerated for comic effect, of course, but I think anyone who’s spent much time both onstage and backstage can tell you that every production involves, at some level or another, a triumph of organization over chaos.
“Noises Off” plays April 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 7 p.m. and April 15 and 22 at 3 p.m. in the Kenneth Ford Theater at the College of the Siskiyous campus in Weed. Tickets are $15 general, $10 students and seniors. For more information call (530) 938-5373 or go to www.siskiyous.edu/theatre.