You might describe Noises Off, opening this week at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, as a metaplay.
"Meta-" is a prefix getting thrown around a lot of late. Hell, it's even become a word in itself. From metadata to MetaCritic, "meta-" is used to describe a concept that's nested within a broader understanding of that same concept. So, metadata is data about, well, data.
In Noises Off, a 1982 classic that kicks off the museum theater company's 2013-14 season, audiences are treated to a play about putting on a play. And in this comedy, "Everything is going wrong," says the FAC's Scott RC Levy.
Now, Levy is not the play's director — WYNOT Radio Theatre's Cory Moosman is — but he is the director of the FAC's performing arts department, which I suppose makes him the metadirector.
The play-within-a-play motif isn't just a plot device. Playwright Michael Frayn even wrote a program for the play that the characters in Noises Off are performing, called Nothing On. The fictitious theater company staging Nothing On is actually set in the same world as one of Frayn's other plays: the drama Copenhagen. Over the course of its 10-week run, audiences watch Nothing On crumble.
It's clear that putting on this kind of play is a serious business.
Performing Noises Off "is so mathematical," Levy says. "There are a lot of things you have to do in a certain way or the timing won't work ... people have to enter and exit doors at very specific times."
But all that hard work helps the audience focus on the funny. The mile-a-minute pace and circuitous plot lines actually force the audience to disregard the plot and just take in the comedy, which is often slapstick and physical.
"It's a workout: We are so tired at the end of rehearsal," actress Birgitta De Pree says.
Even the stage has hard work written all over it. The set is 18 feet tall, has two stories, weighs more than 3,000 pounds, and sits on a lazy-Susan-esque platform allowing the entire thing to rotate 180 degrees — all constructed by the FAC's in-house staff. This metastage allows audiences to experience Nothing On from three different perspectives through the course of Noises Off.
"We're seeing Act 1 of Nothing On three times," Levy explains. "The play within the play never changes — except for what goes wrong."
Many of the actors play both their character as well as the metacharacter they portray in Nothing On. De Pree, who plays Dotty Otley (who plays Mrs. Clackett), finds the double role challenging, but a little freeing.
"[Dotty] constantly forgets her lines. She's temperamental," De Pree says. "It's great to get to play that kind of role ... what's happening to Dotty is exactly what's happening to me as well."
As the run of Nothing On continues, the mistakes keep adding up, forcing the actors to take the play into their own hands. All this simulated chaos yields a truly unique experience that lovingly mocks the world of theater.
"I was really looking for something to start the season that was just a fun time," Levy says. And Noises Off, he says, is "piss-out-loud funny."