MASON CITY | “Noises Off,” called the “funniest farce ever written” by the New York Post, opens Thursday, Aug. 17, at Mason City Community Theatre.
The play within a play received the Olivier Award in 1982, and in 1984 was nominated for both Tony and Drama Desk awards, all for best play.
In 1992, it was made into a movie with a star-studded cast, but wasn’t quite as good, according to Tom Ballmer.
“A farce is always better live,” Ballmer said. “The awe you feel watching a farce doesn’t live in the world of movies.”
Ballmer, executive director at Stebens Children’s Theatre, is making his directorial debut at MCCT with this play. And he’s brought several of his alumni with him.
“It’s great to use my Stebens kids in adult roles,” Ballmer said. “It’s really fun.”
Catherine Gobeli, a graduate of Mason City High School and student at North Iowa Area Community College, is one of the Stebens veterans.
“This is definitely different than children’s theater, I’ll tell you that,” Gobeli said. “Especially my character” who spends much of the play in her underwear.
In this production, the cast of “Noises Off” is performing a play called “Nothing On.” The second act is that play from backstage, and there’s intrigue on stage and off.
Michelle Murray said it gives the audience a good look at the things that go on backstage.
Liz Rocha agreed.
”There are always wacky things happening back stage,” Rocha said.
“It’s funny to see how things go wrong in the play within the play, and in our rehearsals,” Sarah Betz added.
By the third act, the play has returned to the stage, and lines are being cut so each act is shorter, Rocha said. Gobeli said she hopes audiences realize the lines are being dropped on purpose.
“It’s a really big show,” Ballmer said. “The whole idea of the set turning around — it’s a huge, huge undertaking.”
David Lee gets the credit for set design and construction.
“Totally,” Ballmer said. “We would not have been able to do it without him.”
“It’s a stellar crew,” Ballmer added. “The play is very much a challenge. There’s a lot of staging.“
Rocha, a 20-year veteran of both Stebens and MCCT, said this is the hardest thing she’s ever done on stage.
“It’s not only extremely mentally exhausting, but physically exhausting.”
“I’m really glad Tom is directing,” Murray said. “It would be a nightmare to direct.”
Ballmer called the play a "lust fest," rather than a love fest, and Gobeli and Betz are part of a love triangle.
"It’s fun to be Catherine’s enemy," Betz said. "We’re best friends in real life."
Ballmer said there's a lot of talent on stage.
"This ensemble — we are a pretty tight ensemble, allowing each other to do some pretty amazing things."