by Janet I. Martineau

In two weeks time they're going to be dead.

Every single one of them.

Due to total exhaustion.

That's my prediction for the cast, and probably the crew too, involved in Pit and Balcony Community Theatre's production of "Noises Off" -- which opens appropriately on April Fool's Day.

Saw the final dress rehearsal of the frantic farce, and it is one of the most physically demanding shows ever with the nine-member cast doing the same scene three times in three acts -- but with a different take each time.

Over the course of it they collectively run up and down two sets of stairs continually; go in and out of seven doors, two curtains and a glass window; crawl on hands and knees looking for a lost contact lens; take hard falls and trip over trousers; battle for control of a whiskey bottle, and misplace several plates of sardines.

Break concentration or flag in energy for one second with all this, and the show could stall and croak. But on dress rehearsal night they were in their prime -- although director Todd Thomas did express a concern on "how much they have left" in terms of energy for the six shows of the run, noting their need to hydrate between acts.

Penned by Michael Frayn, "Noises Off" is a play within a play. And the more you know about theater the funnier it is as it chronicles a production of a touring play featuring a dimwit cast which increasingly becomes more and more rancorous with each other and the director.

Act I finds them in a final dress rehearsal (at Pit and Balcony) and still constantly challenging the frustrated director. Thomas also has added some local theater references, with a hilarious nod to plays in Midland. HILARIOUS!

Act II takes place backstage during a performance (in Grand Rapids), with all of them at each other's throats -- often literally. It is this act that is the reason to see the show as Thomas has directed it like a piece of dance choreography -- nonstop fluid motion, few words spoken except when they are "onstage" at the back of the set, wild gesturing, and with acts of vitriol against each other occurring at an increasingly dizzying pace.

And Act III takes place (in Chicago) during a closing night performance that self-destructs. The weakest of the three acts, actually, but by then even the audience is exhausted from witnessing the first two so who cares.

Thomas has a crackerjack ensemble cast. He has demanded much and all of them deliver -- Paul Lutenske as the frustrated director, Janelle Bublitz as his sensitive assistant stage manager and Devon Wright as his overextended stage manager who may have step into one of the roles.

The rest of the cast plays dual roles -- as the actors and their characters. Laura Brigham is a forgetful actress/housekeeper; Bill Kircher an alcoholic/burglar; Natalie Slawnyk a self-absorbed actress/tax worker having an affair; Kale Schafer a jealous actor/estate agent, Matt Kehoe a not very bright actor prone to nosebleeds/tax evader, and Rachel Jingles a reliable actress/housewife.

Some of them may or may not be "involved" with the director or castmates.

Each could have delivered a caricature performance but do not.

Bravo also to the rotating set designed by Tony Serra and executed skillfully by the crew and to the strong costume, props, lighting and sound that add to the high quality of this production.

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