BY CARY GINELL
The Rubicon Theatre Company’s production of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, which opens on February 1, promises to be one of the noisiest, wackiest events in recent Ventura County theater history. Described by Frank Rich of the New York Times as “the funniest play written in my lifetime,” Noises Off is an ingenious play-within-a-play which follows a touring company as they rehearse and present a bedroom farce called Nothing On, filled with slamming doors, mistaken identities, infidelities, and scantily clad women. The cast includes four artists from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as three local residents from Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.
The set for Noises Off was designed by Thomas S. Giamario of Giatheatrix, who has designed more than 40 sets at Rubicon. Giamario reported that this particular set has more lumber and carpentry than any other set in Rubicon’s history, built to withstand the more than 290 door slams that take place in the farce. The set is two stories high and has eleven doors.
Director Kenneth Albers has worked for nearly five decades as an actor and director in more than 300 productions throughout the country. Albers sat down for an interview, in between the flying cactus plants and plates of sardines.
VCOS: You’ve had a long career directing and performing in a wide variety of plays – what makes Noises Off singular?
ALBERS: Noises Off is a direct descendant of Shakespeare (Comedy of Errors), Moliere (The Miser and others), Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Larry Shue (The Foreigner), but he must be the long lost son of the world’s most astonishing farceur, France’s Georges Feydeau, who once said, “Whenever two of my characters should never, under any circumstances, encounter one another, I throw them together as quickly as possible.” We have never seen another playwright like Feydeau until Michael Frayn.
VCOS: Does this show hearken back to a different era in stage plays? The time of the knockabout comedies?
ALBERS: Yes, it hearkens back to all of the great comedians and writers: Mack Sennett comedies, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers. Name a comedy who specializes in elements of mistaken identity, out-of-control situations, or starring great comedic talents, and we must include Noises Off in that conversation.
VCOS: What are some of the really innovative things Michael Frayn did in writing this play?
ALBERS: Well, the single most unique contribution was his idea to marry “life” and “art” as the “company” of Noises Off finds itself “living” the difficulties and agonies of producing a play, Nothing On, full of difficulties and agonies over which they have no control. If I had to offer a similar theatrical example, I would tell everyone to read Alan Ayckbourne’s trilogy The Norman Conquests, in which Mr. Ayckbourne intertwines scenes from three different plays and three different places. Table Manners takes place in a dining room, Living Together in a living room, and Round and Round the Garden in guess where? It is a brilliant and inventive comedic structure.
VCOS: Occasionally changes are made to traditional characters in plays to accommodate either a particular performer or maybe even the director’s own vision of a show. Have you done any of this here or are you the type of director who sticks strictly to the absolute intentions of the playwright?
ALBERS: Yes, I try to think of myself as the latter; I am not the “architect,” I’m the “carpenter.” I don’t design the house, I simply build it according to the designer’s wishes.
VCOS: Noises Off almost behaves like a musical, with its rigid timing, meticulous choreography, and even special rhythms (the slamming of doors). Have you done musicals before, and if so, what kinds of techniques as a director or a performer do you impart to your cast in this show?
ALBERS: When I was much younger I directed and acted in many musicals, and I believe I learned an appreciation for rhythm, “timing,” and precision which are intrinsic to both musicals and farce. Musicals require an audience to accept the convention that characters suddenly break into song, and farce asks an audience to believe that people in seemingly ridiculous situations are behaving normally. As someone once said, “Farce is very serious business.”
VCOS: With all the shows you’ve been associated with, have you ever had an experience in the theater that approaches what goes in Noises Off?
VCOS: I’ve likened the three acts to an auto race. In Act I, the engine is revving up, Act II shows the vehicle taking flight at a high rate of speed, and in Act III, the wheels come off in spectacular fashion. How do you explain the pace and feeling of each act to your cast?
ALBERS: That is a brilliant metaphor for this play, and I shared it with my cast at our latest rehearsal. That’s how I explained it. Bless you!
VCOS: Finally – tell me about the cast members and specifically what they bring to the production.
ALBERS: I have a wonderful cast of both younger and older actors, all of whom bring an energy and intelligence and comedic instinct to this theatrical insanity. Several members of the cast are comedic colleagues of mine from my time at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: Bill Langan plays the harried director, Lloyd Dallas; Andrew Borba is the earnest but dim-witted Frederick; Robynn Rodriguez essays Dotty, an actress on her farewell tour playing small theaters throughout Britain, and Catherine Lynn Davis, brings her comedic style to the role of Belinda Blair, the cheerleader of the cast of Nothing On.
We are also incredibly fortunate to have three wonderful actors from Ventura and its surrounds, Alyson Lindsay, the blond bombshell, Brooke Ashton, Toby Tropper as Tim, the young and eager stagehand/understudy, and Rudy Willrich as the drunken burglar, Selsdon, whose personal history with the play includes understudying two roles in the New York production. Add our leading man, LA’s Eric Curtis Johnson, as the linguistically challenged Garry Lejuene and Joanna Trapp from New York as the beleaguered stage manager. It is truly a wonderful group of actors; colleagues in the best sense of the word who challenge me and require me to try to do my best work each and every day. If this play succeeds, it will not be mine to claim. It will due to their collective intelligence, commitment, discipline, and creativity.
After fifty years and more than three hundred productions as an actor and director, I have discovered and truly believe, that good direction never saves bad acting, but good acting always saves bad directing.
Noises Off opens at the Rubicon Theatre Company on February 1. Lower-priced previews are staged from Wednesday, January 29 through Friday, January 31. For details or to buy tickets, click on the Noises Off ad on the right side of our home page. For dates and showtimes for the regular run of the show, see the VC On Stage Calendar.