The old adage, you can’t keep a good man down, can also easily translate to the theatre with the following adjustment…”You can’t keep a good show dark”. In other words, there are a handful of shows that inevitably keep popping up in local theatre season after season. Here in Nashville, and i dare say, across the country, such shows as Nunsense (take your pick from the original—to the numerous sequels), Legally Blonde, Steel Magnolias and Noises Off seem to be included in at least one (often two or more) regional lineups each year, so it should be no surprise that the latter, Noises Off, a British farce of on-stage and backstage hijinks, romance, in-fighting, slamming doors, sardines and belly-laughs is currently enjoying a run courtesy an uber-talented cast as directed by Bradley Moore for ACT 1 at Darkhorse Theatre (4610 Charlotte Pike, Nashville, TN 37209). With the show at the midway point of their current run through Saturday, May 27, I recently had the chance to chat with director Moore, as well as four (or is that eight?) members of his cast for the latest installment of my recurring interview feature, Rapid Fire.
Rapid Fire with Bradley Moore, director of Noises Off
JONATHAN PINKERTON: Noises Off seems to be one of those handful of shows that makes it into at least one Nashville-area theatre company’s lineup every theatre season. Why do you think it proves so popular production after production?
BRADLEY MOORE: Noises Off has definitely become a modern classic over the last few decades. I think for actors and directors, the appeal of the show is the challenge of staging and performing it. And even though it is produced more often than a lot of other plays, I think audiences still love to watch the insanity that ensues throughout the production. There is also the opportunity for the audience to watch the set rotate around and transform in front of their eyes. All that aside, it is a show that provides a lot of laughs. It is a guaranteed comedic escape for all those who come to watch.
JP: What is it about your cast and your direction that brings something new to ACT 1’s presentation?
BRADLEY MOORE: Noises Off was tricky on that level. It is one of those shows that sort of has to be what it is. As a director who likes to put their own spin on things, I had to put a lot of thought into how I could make it my own. We focused a lot on Nothing On, the show-within-the-show, being bigger, bolder, and a little more soap opera than the general action of Noises Off. Characters were also very important to me. I wanted each one of them to have a clear differential between their Nothing On character and their Noises Off character. And as far as the cast goes, I seriously lucked out. Besides the fact that they are all bursting with talent, each one of them fits and portrays their characters perfectly. This cast was a dream come true.
JP: Being a British farce, how much of a stickler for authentic-sounding accents are you?
BRADLEY MOORE: Accents can be tricky, especially when you have nine actors on stage using the same one. I was fortunate that everyone who I cast in this show started off with a very good British dialect. I then enlisted the fabulous Brett Myers to be our Dialect Coach throughout the rehearsal period. Every single day he would give the cast pointers and exercises to do to keep moving towards perfecting the dialect. I am very proud of what everyone accomplished.
JP: The set, what with all the slamming doors and the rotating of the set between each of the three acts, seems a crucial part of the show. Who designed your set?….and how did you work around the confined space of Darkhorse Theatre’s more intimate stage?
BRADLEY MOORE: I found the confined space of the Darkhorse to be one of my many exciting challenges with this production. When the ACT 1 board selected me to direct this show, so many people would say, “I don’t think that show can be done in there” or “What about the set?”. There was always a game plan for that. It started with me asking Jim Manning a year ago if he thought the set could work in that space. Then him and Cat Arnold teamed up to design one of the most ambitious sets I have ever seen in the Darkhorse. Not only is it functional, rotatable, and perfect for this production, but it is also beautiful and very detailed. Cat led the team to erect the beast and with the help of a village, our amazing set was born. I also think the intimate setting provides a completely different look at this show than what people would get seeing it staged in a traditional theatre.
Rapid Fire with Cat Arnold, Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clackett in Noises Off
JP: Like many of your fellow cast mates, you play dual roles, one as an actor and another as the character they portray in the play-within-the-play, Nothing On. How difficult is it to play these two women to mark a difference between the actress and the character she’s playing?
CAT ARNOLD: Luckily, just the fact that Clackett speaks with a cockney accent and Dotty speaks proper British helps quite a bit. That plus a different physicality, helps me to separate the roles. After the four roles I played in Angels in America though, Dotty/Clackett is a walk in the park.
JP: You’ve worked with Bradley Moore both as a director and as a fellow actor, most recently in the above-mentioned Angels in America. What is it about Moore that makes you come back to work with him time and time again?
CAT ARNOLD: First and foremost, he is a good friend. But, aside from that, he really has a strong vision for the plays he works on. He comes in prepared, very clear on blocking, knows what he wants from the characters and is easy to talk to about ideas and suggestions. He pays attention and gives thoughtful notes and stays very engaged in the process. And he also puts together a backstage crew that is hardworking and great to work with.
JP: From the top of the show, a plate of sardines figure prominently into the laughs, which begs the questions….sardines…yes, or no?
CAT ARNOLD: It used to be a yes, I would eat them on saltines, but not so much anymore.
JP: While Noises Off debuted on stage in the 80s wth Dame Patricia Routledge (TV’s Keeping Up Appearances) creating the roles you’re currently playing, my personal point of reference to the work began with the early 90s film adaptation in which the legendary Carol Burnett played Dotty/Mrs. Clackett. With such a storied past of leading ladies in the roles, how are you making them uniquely your own?
CAT ARNOLD: While you can be inspired by an incredible performance, it’s actually very difficult to copy another actor, especially when you have a completely different supporting cast, set, and director. You let the script dictate what you are going to do and the character creates itself. I’ve seen the show on stage three times, including on Broadway with Patti LuPone, but that was so long ago, it’s hard to remember the nuances of anyone else’s specific performance. I watched the movie a little bit ago, but again, couldn’t tell you exactly what Carol did either.
Rapid Fire with Brett Myers, Garry Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain in Noises Off
JP: You recently shared the stage with Noises Off director, Bradley Moore, and a few other cast members when you were cast in ACT 1’s Angels in America. It’s been said that comedy is harder than drama. What’s your take on that broad statement?
BRETT MYERS: My personal opinion is that drama is harder. I feel much more natural and at ease when playing comedy, and I’ve always tried to steer clear of the tearjerkers. Don’t get me wrong, it was a rewarding challenge to be in Angels, and I still cherish that show and the people in it, but the director Jim Manning had to work with me to become less musical theatre (if that’s an adjective). Looking back, my first ever theatre production was a British farce (See How They Run), and ever since then, I just can’t say no to comedy–especially another British farce like Noises.
JP: In Noises Off, you play Garry and Roger. Which of these two do you relate to most and why?
BRETT MYERS: I would say that I relate to Garry more because I think Garry enjoys playing Roger in Nothing On, and so do I. Bradley gave us the direction to make our Nothing On characters bigger than life, and this really amps up the farcical moments. It gives us the opportunity to be wildly melodramatic and also pull out some slapstick; this is the most kind of fun you can have onstage, and we all make each other laugh constantly. I suppose I also relate to Garry because sometimes I start a sentence, and then, I don’t know…
JP: What’s your favorite moment in the show?
BRETT MYERS: I really love the second act, which is notoriously the bane of any cast doing Noises Off. It’s full of constantly moving physical comedy, and it shows the importance of an ensemble working together. It was certainly difficult to rehearse, but every time that we nail it, it is so incredibly satisfying. And each time I think–gosh, this cast and crew are amazing.
JP: Each of the three acts of Noises Off includes Act 1 of the play-within-a-play, Nothing On. Every time I’ve seen a production of Noises, I can’t help but wonder what happens in the rest of Nothing On…what do you think happens?
BRETT MYERS: Well, by the end of Act 1, we’ve had a few mistaken identities, and we’ve also called the police. In my imagination, Act 2 starts off with the police coming to the door to figure out who broke into the house. Of course, everyone has reasons to hide from the police, so Mrs. Clackett helps everyone hide through different doors before the police barge in. The rest of the play centers around each person trying to escape the house, but encountering various mishaps along the way–until the end when we learn that Mrs. Clackett herself is the chief of police and has everyone arrested on charges of breaking and entering, tax evasion, fraud, and indecent exposure. And she sends them all to jail with a plate of sardines.
Rapid Fire with Christina Candilora, Brooke Ashton/Vicki in Noises Off
JP: I have to admit, I know you mostly from musical theatre, most notably, your star turn as Louise in Gypsy at The Larry Keeton Theatre a few years back. What’s proven more challenging, musicals with dialogue and songs, or playing two parts in one show?
CHRISTINA CANDILORA: I think for me, playing multiple characters is more of a challenge. It’s also something that I love doing. I enjoy getting to change up physicality and vocal tones in one show. I love that when Brooke plays Vicki she takes everything so literally.
JP: Throughout much of Noises Off, your wardrobe consists of little more than ‘unmentionables’. During rehearsals, did you ever wanna suggest that everyone strip down to their skivvies?
CHRISTINA CANDILORA: Hah! I never considered suggesting that. That would have made for one funny rehearsal. This cast has never made me feel uncomfortable. However, initially it certainly a bit intimidating to be stuck in next to nothing for a long period of time. You just feel so exposed, but you get used to it, and after all it is just a costume.
JP: While Cat has to contend with sardines throughout the show, you have your own running gag of Brooke always losing her contacts. I’m pretty sure you wear glasses, but have you ever tried contacts?
CHRISTINA CANDILORA: I am far too familiar with Brooke’s contact troubles. Bless it, I’m blind as a bat. I’m just as clumsy as her too. I’ve lost many a contact on stage over the years. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen with Noises Off given all the stairs.
JP: One of my favorite things in the show is that no matter what nonsense is going on around Brooke, she sticks to her line. What’s your favorite aspect of the show?
CHRISTINA CANDILORA: My favorite aspect of the show is the classic, frantic Act 2. We’ve all been there where things go wrong. Really wrong. The fact that the audience gets to see what it could potentially be like backstage and all the drama is so fun to play out. That being said, I also love how everyone has chosen to deliver their lines. I always end up laughing backstage at certain deliveries. It’s a smart and funny bunch.
Rapid Fire with Meggan Utech, Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent in Noises Off
JP: Belinda is a bit of a busybody, but also seems to really want her cast mates to get along. Be honest…which is more fun?
MEGGAN UTECH: Belinda really does set off my motherly instinct. I mean almost every single one of my lines has “my sweet” “my precious” or “my love” somewhere in it, and that is very me (except I call everyone baby or babe). I want everyone to love each other. But I can’t lie, it’s pretty fun to be the gossip too (even though it makes my inner Wisconsin-nice girl a cringe).
JP: Like several of your cast mates, you recently appeared in ACT 1’s Angels in America. That’s such a beautiful, but heavy show. How happy were you to be cast in such a nonsensical romp like Noises Off afterward?
MEGGAN UTECH: I am so thankful for Angels in America for so many reasons. It was a show that affected me so much in college after I read it. And when I found out they were doing it here, I was at a place in my life where I hadn’t done theatre in months. So it brought me back to the stage. But FARCE…I LOOVED farce in college so I could not wait to do it for the first time. I know it’s not everyone’s thing but this show in particular, is something that everyone can laugh at.
JP: As both Belinda and Flavia, you are teamed with J. Robert Lindsey who plays Frederick and Philip. What’s the best part of having him as a scene partner?
MEGGAN UTECH: J. Robert is a gift! We love to play off of each other, and as we got our characters (and all those lines and all that blocking!) under our belt, we just kept getting to be bigger and more ridiculous as Philip and Flavia. I also really loved watching him turn Freddie into this sweet pouty confused man. And bonus for me, he sure isn’t hard to look at.
JP: No matter how many times I see Noises Off, it’s one of those shows that I literally come away from with a sore jaw from laughing so much. How do you guys hold it together during some of the show’s funnier moments?
MEGGAN UTECH: Oh my god. I still laugh. Thank god I’m off stage for most of the lines that get me every time.
ACT 1’s Noises Off continues its run at Darkhorse Theatre with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursdays-Saturdays and Sunday at 5 p.m. through Saturday, May 27. For tickets or more information, Click Here. To keep up with the latest news and happens at ACT 1, check out their official site, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview feature, check out previous conversations of Rapid Fire and be sure to subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.