“It was funnier from behind than in front,” he said. “I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind.”
In 1982, Noises Off debuted in London and then enjoyed a long run on Broadway. It earned Tony nominations and won a Drama Desk Award for Best Ensemble. Because the action in this play-within-a-play takes place both onstage and backstage from act to act, the production generally uses a revolving two-story set.
Cut to Circle Bar B’s intimate converted-barn theater, with 80-something seats and about a 7-foot ceiling above its tiny stage. “How would they pull it off?” was the question of the season. Ever resourceful, technical director and set designer William York Hyde headed up construction of a clever accordion-style set, which folds up and rotates to portray both onstage and backstage areas.
In a fun twist, Hyde, who has worked on countless CBB productions behind the scenes, also plays the role of Tim, the overworked and underappreciated stage manager who is pressed into service as understudy. He and the entire cast work together beautifully as the ragged ensemble struggling to present the fictional play Nothing On.
The always hilarious Tiffany Story seems to be channeling Lucille Ball, with curly hair tied up in a scarf, as the actress playing the English housekeeper. Her on-again, off-again accent during rehearsals and continual business with plates of sardines ensure laughs throughout the show.
George Coe and Katherine Bottoms, who both appeared in The Fox on the Fairway, CBB’s last production, are solid as the actor often at a loss for words, and the young actress who staunchly carries on with her lines and staging regardless of what chaos happens around her.
Joseph Bottoms, in his first production onstage with his daughter, brings the benefit of his years of experience in acting to his debut at CBB. The funniest scene involves the two of them attempting to make an entrance from backstage through separate doors. As Frederick, a rather pompous performer, he is paired with co-producer Susie Couch, who does a wonderful job as the actress playing his wife in the fictional play, the one who gamely manages to keep it together in the end with her improv skills as lines are forgotten, staging is bungled and the entire cast seems to despise each other.
As the director of this dismal mess, who is also muddling through his own personal problems, Joseph Beck hits just the right notes of agony and quiet desperation, and puts on a good English accent.
Jean Hall is the anxious and sensitive assistant stage manager, Poppy. While this is a more low-key role than she has often played in the past, she still brings to it her inimitable comic timing and expressions.
And as Selsden, the elderly actor with a fondness for the drink and a tendency to wander off, Robert Higbee is perfect in his portrayal of this well-intentioned but hopelessly confused thespian.
Director Miller James has pulled off a well-crafted and highly enjoyable production of this very funny play. Described as a “bucket-list production” by producers David and Susie Couch, it is a fitting finale to the current CBB season, running Friday through Sunday through Oct. 27.
Take a little time for a drive up the coast to this idyllic getaway, and treat yourself to dinner and a show — with a lot of laughs.
Click here for tickets and information.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.