It's all in the timing

Two farces fall short of a laugh.

Noises Off

Village Theatre ends April 22

THE BRILLIANCE OF Michael Frayn's Noises Off is in the blissfully deceptive ease with which it both celebrates and dissects its own existence: Frayn gives you the carefree joy of a farce that results from a loving exploration of the carefree joy of a farce. The damndest thing about Village Theatre's production is that it's good enough to indicate how much easier its farce should be.

The play charts the disastrous course of a second-rate ensemble attempting to stage a third-rate, door-slamming trifle called Nothing On. Act 1 of the play we are watching is a rehearsal of the play they are doing, which cunningly establishes both the rules of their farce and the particulars of ours. We know, for instance, both when a plate of sardines has to be moved and the strained offstage relationships of the people moving it. The second act goes backstage to watch those affairs frenetically combust while the actors attempt to complete a performance, and Act 3 lets us witness the tired show's hilarious collapse (needless to say, those sardines are sneaky bastards).

If this sounds slightly heady, it is—and where director M. Burke Walker's promising production goes wrong is in letting us know it. Frayn, of course, wants us to recognize the tenuous framework holding up his fictional company, but the real company needs to do the construction. We're still doing part of the work for them, supplying the extra half a moment needed to make a split-second physical bit kick us in the ribs. Everyone here is cheerily on top of it, but just; you can't completely relax and let them go about their business. The idea of the joke is too often funnier than its execution.

This isn't to say that you won't enjoy yourself. Walker's cast—I'd cite Stephan Weyte's weary director and Betsy Schwartz's obliviously robotic sexpot as highlights—is full of pros. When I saw it, at least, the show was still holding its breath. If it ever becomes as breathless as its high jinks, it will send you rolling down the aisles.


Seattle Public Theater ends April 15

OK, SO IT'S A.D. 1250 and there's this bunch of monks, see? Their monastery is strapped for cash and miracles when they hit on the great idea of digging up the bones in their graveyard to sell off across Europe as relics of saints.

That's the basic premise of Michael Hollinger's Incorruptible and, don't ask me why, it makes him all warm and fuzzy inside. Seattle Public Theater and director B.J. Douglas have picked up the play and brought it to the old Bathhouse space (which SPT has reopened this season), and now they're feeling pretty cuddly, too. Is it just me, or is hawking someone's foot not the stuff of feel-good comedy?

No one in the affable cast finesses a comic shape large enough to carry the shtick. We need people shaking off a double take and talking out of the sides of their mouths; the actors try but their attempts lack blood. Even the inimitable Imogen Love, playing a shrew- ish peasant woman, is caught between a character and a personality. (I would've taken the personality any day.)

It doesn't matter anyway, because soon people are running around saying things like, "Sometimes I think true love must be the greatest miracle of all," and then you know you're in trouble. Hollinger has fooled himself into thinking that his dark farce can lead us smoothly into the light of redemption, but who wants sentiment in a farce anyway? It's like watching the jiggling bosoms of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and then being told to reflect on the eternal struggle of women. Call me crazy, but you either write a comedy about a bunch of grave-robbing monks or you don't.

Douglas, unfortunately, has been too charmed by the play and weighs everybody down trying to make a rosary out of what is basically a string of gags—and pretty cheap ones at that. We have far too much time, I'm afraid, to consider whether or not it's actually all that funny to drag a dead Jew on stage.

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