Split-second comic timing. An impressive set. And lots of doors and sardines.
All are prominently featured in the Juneau-Douglas High School production of "Noises Off," an ambitious comedy opening this weekend at the high school auditorium.
"Noises Off," written by British playwright Michael Frayn - and also opening as a revival on Broadway this weekend - is a tale of a theater troupe tackling a farce called "Nothing On."
"It's a play within a play," director Bethany Bereman said. "The first act (shows) a group of actors at their dress rehearsal. ... It establishes the relationships they have with each other and certain characters' idiosyncrasies.
"In the second act it's a month later, and tempers are a bit frayed. We get to watch it from backstage. ... What the audience sees is the actors going on stage for 'Nothing On,' then coming backstage and having all these shenanigans going on," Bereman said.
"The third act is three months later, and all the insanity (from) backstage has leaked to 'Nothing On.' ... Not only is it chaotic backstage, but it's chaotic on stage."
The play requires a complete set change between the first and second acts, and a change back to the original set for the third act. Achieving that required some creativity, and the final solution to be kept secret until the first show is a construction accomplishment that will have its own moment in the spotlight between acts.
Bereman and technical director Toby Clark said in their view the set, designed by Michael Matthews and built by school district welder Steve Bradner and students, tops the rising coffin featured in last year's production of "Dracula."
Bereman said the production has provided the cast an excellent education in comic timing, physical expression the backstage scenes are largely miming - and working in an ensemble.
"There's no star; everyone is equally important," she said. "All the actors have learned they're really counting on each other."
The roles are challenging, with most of the cast playing two distinct individuals their on-stage "Nothing On" character and their backstage "Noises Off" persona. On top of that, the fast pace of the production requires great attention to detail, such as which door should be opened when, and where a recurring plate of sardines should go.
Senior Kari Urata (playing Belinda Blair in "Noises Off" and Flavia Brent in "Nothing On") called the performance "rehearsed chaos."
"If something is not where it's supposed to be, the whole play is jeopardized," she said.
Whereas most plays give actors at least several minutes between cues, in "Noises Off" the actors often have just seconds between cues, Urata said.
"You have to pay attention to what's going on at each moment," said senior Aren Musarra, who plays Garry Lejeune and Roger Tramplemain.
The cast and crew also said they like how the play lets the audience see the backstage activity of "Nothing On." Bereman said that aspect was one of the reasons she chose to produce this play.
"This was a huge undertaking, but the kids have stepped up to the plate," technical director Clark said. "The comic timing is there, the pace is there it's a high-energy, fast-paced frenzy."
Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday nights, Nov. 2-3 and Nov. 9-10, at 7 p.m. at the JDHS auditorium. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Nov. 10. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for adults, and can be purchased at Hearthside Books or at the door.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.