Among the things the Jungle Theater is known for are sets that are painstakingly realistic. I can remember a production of Bus Stop from many years ago that included a working grill -- and the tasty-smelling breakfast that was made onstage.
So Joel Sass, director of the theater's new production of Noises Off! found himself in the unusual position of telling the crew to make sure the set for the show wasn't too real. You see, half of it isn't a real location, it's the set of the play within the play in Michael Frayn's landmark deconstruction of the traditional farce.
Realistic beveled stained-glass windows? Oh no, not here. Instead, it's Plexiglas with the squares blocked out in black magic marker and painted in various colors. The goal is the same as always: to get the set to look right for the setting. It's just that the setting this time is a slightly shabby touring production of a dying-on-the-vine farce, Nothing On.
Those kinds of layers are present throughout the production, which is one of the reasons it's been a popular piece over the past 30 years. That Noises Off! is really freaking funny probably has something to do with that popularity as well.
This is Sass's second time around with the play, having directed it a number of years ago at Park Square Theatre. "You do learn lessons," says Sass about the earlier experience. "It makes great demands on the actors and the designers and the director, of course. It is beautifully constructed comedy anarchy. It spins right on the edge of being out of control."
The play's structure, where the same onstage scenes are played out in three very different situations, also provides a challenge. "How do you make the same act funny in three different ways?" Sass asks.
Like a typical farce, the elements of the plot -- from either side of the stage -- aren't as important as the absurd people inhabiting the landscape. "He's got some very specific character types that are germane to the world of the theater, but they have their cousins in any family, work, or team environment. This is a theatrical cast of misfits, many of whom are past their expiration date for being on the top of their game. They are in the show because they have a fatal flaw, like the toxic den mother and company gossip, or the blonde bombshell," Sass says.
Noises Off! provides plenty of challenges for the company, from nailing the various dialects in use to dealing with the escalating physical demands of running up stairs and slamming doors.
"There is a real challenge for the actors to basically have the same text memorized, but utilize it in different ways," says Sass. "I look for different energies, personality types, and physical types."
Along with directing, Sass is also in charge of the set design. For Noises Off!, it's a case of fitting a size 12 show into a size 8 venue.
"The ground plan is really prescribed for you," he says. "Here, there is not a lot of height, so we had to find a way to get the turntable in here with a second level that could be seen from all the rows in this little theater. It was literally drafting and redrafting to carve three or six inches. Six inches can make difference whether or not you can sell the last row."
IF YOU GO:
Friday through August 5
Jungle Theater 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
For information, call 612.822.7036 or visit online