The set for Idaho Shakespeare Festival's Noises Off feels instantly familiar--like it was borrowed from an old British sitcom. A well-worn couch and a doily-covered recliner rest center stage, framed by seven wooden doors--three upstairs, four down--and a staircase that winds up stage right. A number of bad tapestries, awkward portraits and tchotchkes fill out the rest of the warmly dated space.
And that TV comedy feeling continues as Mrs. Clackett ambles out in the opening scene, wearing a crocheted blanket housecoat and fuzzy pink slippers, her hair in curlers. As she stumbles through her lines and fusses with a plate of sardines, director Lloyd Dallas' voice booms from above, giving her stage direction.
"How about the words, love, am I getting some of them right?" she asks. "Some of them have a very familiar ring," he chides.
Clackett, played by the fictional Dotty (who, in turn, is played by ISF vet Lynn Allison), is in the final hours of rehearsal for a farce called Nothing On. Soon, her fellow cast members--a ragtag team of regional theater half-wits clad in vibrant '70s leisure suits and mini dresses--come stumbling through the set's doors, botching their lines and timing with equal dedication. As the clock ticks toward opening night, the Valium-popping Dallas (played by Richard Klautsch) gets more and more exasperated.
While the ISF cast makes this play-within-a-play concept look easy--switching between characters and accents fluidly, developing the narrative of the fictional play and the real play in unison--the production requires the technical precision of a ballet.
With every door that slams shut, another one opens. As Clackett leaves the stage momentarily, real estate agent Roger (played by the Ben Stiller-esque Christopher Williams) swings through the front door with a giggling blonde named Vicki (played with robotic vapidity by Betsy Mugavero). The second they duck into a bedroom for an afternoon tryst, the house's tax-evading owners Phillip and Flavia (played by Shad Willingham and Kathryn Cherasaro) come barging on stage. And things continue in this manner for the remainder of the sexual innuendo-filled Nothing On.
And while there is plenty of slapstick comedy going on in the fictional play--with dresses disappearing and actors emerging in sheets to look like Arab sheikhs--the company's rapidly intertwining personal relationships provide for even more hilarity. When we're taken behind the curtain in Act Two, we learn that Dallas is sleeping with both Brooke (who plays Vicki) and the play's stage manager, Poppy. Dottie is having a tryst with the jealous Garry (who plays Roger), who thinks she's also seeing Frederick (who plays Phillip). These petty jealousies and ego bruisings play out mostly silently--and sometimes confusingly--backstage during a performance of the fictional play.
Though Noises Off can be a lot to follow visually--with characters swinging in and out of doors and squabbling in various corners of the set--it's ultimately a fast-paced, finely timed farce that promises to only get better with time.