MFA playwright Bruce Walsh recently sat down with MFA actors, Meaghan Deiter and Matthew Murry, to discuss the unique challenges of performing Noises Off, opening in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre February 26th.
After runs in London, on Broadway, and around the world, Michael Frayn’s 1982 hit has been cemented as a classic farce of the modern stage. Its dizzying plot features a play within a play, in which a downtrodden British acting troupe attempts to stage a ridiculous – not in a good way – comedy. But in Frayn’s ingenious framing, the backstage becomes the real show, as the cast attempts to keep this sinking ship afloat by any means necessary.
Walsh: So a lot of this play involves the actors running into each other.
Deiter: But we need to run into each other with exacting precision! This play is unique in that the [actors movements] are precisely scripted, as much as the dialogue is. Especially in act two – when you’re seeing the backstage – everything is precisely timed.
Murry: And, in act two, since the audience is seeing the backstage, the lines are happening “onstage,” which is really the backstage for us.
Murry: Yeah, it’s confusing. You’re hearing us do our lines “onstage,” but while that’s happening, you’re seeing someone raising an axe backstage. And if you hold that axe in the air one or two seconds too long, you’re messing up the entire flow of the comedy. So it’s systematically timed out.
Deiter: If you’re too quick to take the axe, then you’ve probably missed the laugh. It needs to feel like you’re just getting it out of their hand at the last second. And if you’re too slow, then you create a domino effect that causes a lot of other things not to work.
Walsh: Does that get tedious for an actor, because there’s not as much room to create?
Murry: Yes! I’m an artist damnit.
Deiter: I don’t think it’s tedious.
Murry: No, it’s not at all tedious. Of course not.
Deiter: We understand that for this show, you can’t really go deeper until you have the movements down by rote.
Walsh: In some ways, it seems like the reverse of working on a contemporary drama, where you spend days doing table readings – working on the inner life of the play – and the movements are staged a little further down the line.
Murry: I think farce is like anything else: You have to know the rules before you break them – before you can start having more fun.
Deiter: In a way, it’s freeing. You know exactly the things you have to do. Once you get them in your body, then you’re free to live in it, without worry.
Murry: In this play, you don’t have a chance to get trapped in your head. Like, “Ahh! I can’t motivate this cross.” You just do it, because you have to.
Walsh: Could there be a life lesson here? Speaking as a playwright, as someone who often gets trapped in my head, often the answer is to move forward with the action, and not wait to feel a certain way in order to take action.
Deiter: Acting is full of life lessons, let me tell ya.
Murry: In this play there’s a speech by the character Lloyd. It’s something about farce being about sardines and doors slamming, and how life is about that, too. It’s quite deep.
NOISES OFF continues March 1 – 5, 2016 in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre.
Information at theatre.indiana.edu.