|Written by Greg Ruland|
|Thursday, 04 November 2010 12:00|
When a real ax, frozen in midair above the unsuspecting head of an unfaithful lover, passes gracefully backward from one pair of threatening hands to the next three times in succession and no actor is injured or misses their lines, comedy to make Charlie Chaplin proud is perfected.
Mingus Union High School’s production of “Noises Off” is a gem even though it may be the most complicated play yet attempted by the acting company under the direction of MUHS theater teacher James Ball.
“I can easily say that over any musical, play or event I have directed that this has been the most challenging, most complex and the most rewarding,” Ball said.
From the stage crew: An enormous, two-story set weighing in at a little more than 1,000 pounds revolves in place to show the backstage shenanigans of playwright Michael Frayn’s play within the play.
From the actors: Accomplished comic performances from every member of the cast depends on speaking and moving at precisely the right moment to create the illusion of utter chaos demanded by the script.
“While the set itself presented an endless challenge, the work needed to perfectly time the play was arduous,” Ball said. “The cast grew tired of the phrase, ‘Stop. So and so was late. Go back and try it again.’”
The story moves quickly, the lines fast and close like Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “His Girl Friday,” the action reminiscent of any Three Stooges short.
On stage, doors open and slam shut; windows break and plates of sardines disappear and reappear at exactly the wrong moment. Costumes fall to pieces. A bottle of Jack Daniels stars in a dozen hand-offs like football’s old Statue of Liberty play.
Charley Heath stands out as Gary Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain, who is so enraged by the betrayal of his lover, played by Alexis Reed, he cannot keep his lines straight, constantly refers to her by the wrong name and tumbles down a flight of stairs with a natural flair not seen since Chevy Chase starred on “Saturday Night Live.”
Heath said he has no plans to pursue acting after high school but nevertheless takes inspiration from Jack Nicholson. His personal mantra, “Resist to conform,” informs his outsider status at school, he said.
“I’m not a conformist,” he said. “I tend to be kind of rude and obnoxious.”
“He’s a natural,” Ball said.
It all worked beautifully during a dress rehearsal at MUHS Auditorium on Friday, Oct. 29. Ball once again demonstrated his ability to focus an army of teenage actors and stage hands on a complicated task, inspiring and steering them to heights of performance not usually encountered on a high school stage.
So many exquisitely timed moments of manic slapstick cascade raucously into the third act, audience members may actually feel exhausted from all the smiling and laughing once the final curtain drops.
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