'Noises Off' hits funny bone with feel of truth

"Noises Off" has been done so frequently lately in the Vegas area that I think it's beaten "Annie" and "Grease" on the hall-of-shame list of safe, unimaginative play selections.

But hey, a good production is a good production, and Utah Shakespeare Festival's take on the farce is about as funny as one has the right to expect.

Does anyone still not know the plot? Act 1: We're watching a rehearsal of a third-rate British traveling comedy. Act 2: It's a month into the run, the set is turned around, and we see the drama brewing backstage. Act 3: The front of the set is back, it's late in the run, we're again watching the show, and we see the strains that time and emotions have wreaked upon the theatrics.

Author Michael Frayn based his script on his experiences behind the scenes, and the result is that even the broadest, nuttiest sequences have the feel of truth. The enjoyment is in the execution of the blissful nonsense. People fall down stairs, trousers drop, dialogue is late, dialogue is early, and actors are running amok with "discreet" affairs.

The big challenge is to make the lunacy feel genuine, and director Jeff Steitzer excels at respecting the play's logic. His cast could scarcely be better. Among them: Peter Silbert, who, as the aging but still talented drunken Selsdon, suggests the splendor of a veteran performer who has played all the major parts in his more lucid years; Melinda Parrett, who brings welcomed warmth to her role as the sunshine-spirited Belinda; Jeanne Paulsen, as the likable but hopelessly confused character actress Dotty; and Ron Thomas as the emotion-prone Frederick, who can't seem to make a move without having his motivation explained to him.

Amidst all this expert high-pitched playing is a young actor in the small, subdued role of the weary technician, Tim. Ian Durant debuted at the festival about six years ago as a concession seller. He moved on to be a Greenshow performer and in "Noises Off" proves himself an actor of precision and depth. Getting to experience the professional growth of artists such as Durant is but one example of the many pleasures in attending the festival on a regular basis.