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Waukesha Civic Theatre pulls off ambitious 'Noises Off'

May 5, 2014

"Noises Off" is like putting chocolate sauce on chocolate ice cream. If you like chocolate, you love it.

If you like farces, "Noises Off" is doubly delicious.

That's because it's a farce within a farce. Having finished its run of another play-within-a-play, the musical "Curtains," Waukesha Civic Theatre is tackling perhaps the most ambitious farce of all time.

Not only does the show require a company that can handle the breakneck speed of the comedy, it also requires that sound (by Breanne Brennan), lighting (Aaron Schmidt) and set design be of high quality to handle the tricky aspects of the play.

The transition between Act II and Act III, in which the entire two-story backstage scene rotates to the front, was handled with great speed and efficiency on opening night, bringing applause from an audience appreciative of A.J. Simon, scenic designer, and Patrick Schuster, master carpenter, as well as director and set decorator Mark Schuster. The move was especially impressive considering how massive and elaborate these sets were.

"Noises Off" opens onto the set of "Nothing On" as the ensemble is conducting its dress rehearsal. It's 1982 at a theater in England.

Dotty Otley (Beth Perry) is playing a maid in the comedy "Nothing On" and having a hard time remembering where the sardines, newspaper and phone are supposed to go in the scene. Otley isn't the only performer with issues — one gets frequent nosebleeds, another is a nearly deaf alcoholic. One star is clueless to stage direction while another can barely complete a sentence off stage. Plus rumors fly about with whom the director is having a fling. The cast is a mess.

Randall Anderson plays the director, Lloyd Dallas, with large doses of sarcasm rather than exasperation. "I'm starting to know what God felt like when he sat out there in the darkness, creating the world," he muses during the wreck of a rehearsal.

In Act II, we see the troupe backstage during its 10-week run of "Nothing On." The director is like a circus performer, trying to keep all the plates twirling on the pole but failing miserably as the backstage drama is even more hilarious than the play on stage. Here is where WCT implemented some amazing staging, getting the sound and the lighting of the play going on in the background just right, while chaos is breaking out backstage. The performers' frantic pantomimes, whisperings and backstage antics were handled brilliantly by the cast on opening night. "Noises Off" gets its name from the stage direction for sounds coming from offstage.

The final scene in "Noises Off" might be one of the funniest in farcedom as the "Nothing On" troupe puts on its final performance while Otley's maid is all over the map with her lines and props, creating even more confusion for the faux play's sorry cast.

WCT has leaned on a couple of its veterans for the show. Perry, who has starred in a couple WCT comedies, including "Dixie Swim Club" and "Busybody," is so good with visual humor and really ratchets it up for the last scene. Phil Stepanski as one the stars of the show, Garry Lejeune, has grown so much on local stages, tackling big roles in "Sweeney Todd," "Miss Saigon" and others. He displays a real flare for physical comedy in this very demanding role.

Gemma Fitzsimmons as Lejeune's co-star, Vicki, complements Stepanski's character nicely. Patti Ann Hachmeister does a nice job with her role as Belinda, the one performer who tries to maintain order among the unruly cast.

With a show such as this, depending on keen timing, it's important to have everyone up to speed, which certainly is the case with this cast, which also included James Baker, Jim Donaldson, Kassandra Novell and David Scott.

But because of the importance of set design and other elements, this show, more than others, needed the expertise of everyone involved. Shout-outs also go to Cindy Velcheck, properties designer, for the easily and quietly moved props; costume designer Sharon Sohner for outfits that look good and work well; and the always competent wig master Anthony Mackie for some great looks, especially Belinda's fabulous blond locks.

IF YOU GO

Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre

What: "Noises Off"

When: Through May 18

Where: 264 W Main St., Waukesha

Tickets: (262) 547-0708

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