Scaling the Heights of Comedy at Asolo Repertory Theatre

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In some circles, says director Don Stephenson, Noises Off is simply considered the funniest show ever written. “That’s a good thing,” he says, and the truth of this judgment seems self-evident, especially for the Asolo Repertory Theatre audience that buys tickets. However, in certain, smaller, circles, Noises Off has also been referred to as the “Mount Everest of farces,” due to its complexity and demands on the cast and crew. It may be a British sex farce about a British sex farce gone terribly wrong, but the whole thing only works when everything goes terribly right. “It’s an extremely hard show,” Stephenson admits, but he’s scaled this mountain before.

He’s made the summit twice before, in fact, and Stephenson comes to this third bit of theatrical mountaineering a seasoned veteran. There’s no shortcut, he says, and no oxygen reserves once the climb begins, but Stephenson has learned the secret to success. “I know how to rehearse it,” he says.

The process takes time, and he begins months in advance, making the ascent one step at a time and piece by piece. He remembers tackling the complicated blocking on his coffee table at home, borrowing his son’s action figures and rehearsing actors’ movements with Captain America and Iron Man, sometimes calling a family member into the room to maneuver Wonder Woman as well.

By the time Stephenson gets to set, he knows where to direct his focus and how to allocate time, for himself and his actors—who have to master three acts of very similar but not quite identical dialogue, while appearing the most incompetent crew since Shakespeare’s mechanicals. “It takes a lot of practice to make things look like a mistake,” Stephenson says, and earlier this week the cast and crew spent two hours perfecting a moment that will last all of 40 seconds.

But, when that moment comes onstage, Stephenson knows the audience will laugh.

Currently onstage at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Noises Off runs through April 20.

Pictured: Andrew Hardaway and Katie Sah in a promotional video for Asolo Repertory Theatre's "Noises Off." Photo by John Revisky, video by Asolo Repertory Theatre.

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