Arts & Events

THEATER REVIEW: 'Noises Off' at Actors Ensemble of Berkeley

By Ken Bullock
Friday July 27, 2012 - 12:59:00 PM

"I hope you enjoy the remains of the evening." 

Dropped lines, dropped contact lenses onstage, false entrances and exits, feuds raging onstage and off ... Michael Frayn's 'Noises Off' may not be the definitive farce for a small theater company to put on—but it's the definitive put-on of a small theater company staging a farce—and the mayhem that outdoes the slapstick. 

Frayn came up with the idea while standing backstage during a production by some friends of a mediocre doorslammer. "What I saw backstage was funnier than what was onstage." Act One of 'Noises Off,' the knock-down-and-dirty dress rehearsal of the first act of 'Nothing On,' is upstaged by Act Two, the mostly pantomime brouhaha backstage at a performance of the same—and then there's Act Three, from the audience's perspective, as the company, once on tour, unravels and disintegrates on the boards ...
Actors Ensemble takes on this difficult number—everybody's playing two parts, actors and the characters they portray (the director and his stage manager "protegee" are just as duplicitous), the set must be revolved 180 degrees (twice), the company that's falling to pieces must perform as a real ensemble—and comes through with flying colors, thanks to director Colin Johnson, in his debut at Live Oak Theater, and his valiant cast of nine: Cynthia Roberts, Avi Jacobson, Laura Peterson, Vince Faso, Jordan Michele Kersten, Nick Dickson, Annika Bergman, Theo Adams—and that old hand at East Bay theater, Norman Macleod, trained in theater in York ...
Not to mention the designers: Brian Quackenbush revolving set, Helen Slomowitz's ever-accurate costumery and Alecks Rundell's lights—not to mention AE board member Jerome Solberg, producer and program designer (a kind of Post-Dada/Constructivist collage on the cover).
As the stepped-on lines (and feet), the gaffes in "communication" as well as theatricality, the mistaken relationships, the bruised egos of little theater all add up and spill over, the show becomes more and more—literally—hysterical. The less said about it, the more the surprise—though the cliff it's sliding towards is inevitable—and the greater the fun, whether you've seen this chestnut-of-a-chestnut hammer or no—see it now, a perfect summer comedy, right smack in our backyard, with lots to watch, from crossed signals to slapstick, and shake your head over, laughing ...
Friday/Saturdays at 8, Sunday at 2 (August 12 only), Live Oak Theater (in the Park), 1301 Shattuck at Berryman (just past the Gourmet Ghetto, North Berkeley). $12-$15. 649-5999;