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PAUL BUNYAN PLAYHOUSE SEASON OPENER: Nothing quiet about 'Noises Off'

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse opens it's 64th summer season with the humorous farce "Noises Off" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. (From left) Bonni Allen and Katherine Tieben-Holt react to Mitch Berntson with his britches down during rehearsal on Tuesday morning.

By Natalie Woods Grosfield

Special to the Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- The Paul Bunyan Playhouse opens its 64th summer season with the rollicking romantic comedy, "Noises Off," on Wednesday at the new start time of 7:30 p.m. in the Chief Theater.

Premiering in London in 1982, the idea for this "play within a play" was conceived as playwright Michael Frayn stood backstage in a London theater watching the zany antics of a "quick-change, arms-flapping farce."

He reflected that "it was funnier from behind than in front and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind," according to published reports. The end result of his contemplation is considered one of the craziest comedies ever to hit a stage. It has been seen and enjoyed by millions worldwide, and is thought to be one of the greatest farces in theater history.

"Noises Off" is about a rather untalented troupe of actors stumbling through rehearsals and performances of their fourth-rate play, "Nothing On," which is scheduled for a highly anticipated tour of the Midwest culminating with a final performance at the Historic Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. However, the backstage drama often accompanying such productions has already begun to spill out onto the stage and as a result, the audience is already primed for a hilariously disastrous ending, well before the ragtag troupe actually hits our town for the conclusion of this production, as seen in Act Three.

Fast and furious, this is not an easy play to pull off. Hurtling along at breakneck speed like a runaway train, the timing is extremely crucial. And it is done very well by this talented band of actors: Karen Wiese-Thompson, Randall J. Funk, Ryan Robert Nelson, Katherine Tieben-Holt, Melanie Wehrmacher, Mitch Berntson, Bonni Allen, Michael Postle and Peter Simmons. The actors learn lines that ultimately don't make any sense, all the while keeping up a frantic pace of movement up and down and across and around a revolving set spanning the entire stage. "Noises Off" combines such incongruous elements as a sexy starlet, missing sardines, slamming doors, crazy glue and enough stage snafus to hilarious effect, easily providing an entertaining way to start the summer.

In Act One, we find the cast and crew stumbling through a catastrophic final rehearsal of the first act of "Nothing On" as the clock ticks mercilessly past the midnight hour. Encumbered by a lack of sleep, broken doors, a lost contact lens and their overall lack of talent, they lamely but gamely carry on for a sarcastic and weary director. During this increasingly bumpy rehearsal, the audience catches a glimpse of the actors' own quirky personalities, company romances and curious behaviors so when Act Two takes the madness one step further, we are armed with back-stage knowledge of romances, alliances and alienations. We once again see the first act of "Nothing On," but from backstage this time, as the incredible set has revolved 180 degrees. A month has passed while the performers have toured and tempers are flaring. However, in wonderful theatrical tradition, "the show must go on." While appearances are upheld onstage, for the most part, backstage it is incredible choreographed chaos with plenty of humor punctuated by the ever-present slamming doors.

Act Three is almost two months later, and this time we see the first act of "Nothing On" from the front of the stage. By now the actors are openly battling and the stage becomes a war zone where they rewrite the script willy nilly, sabotage their fellow actors and destroy props and each other. As the pandemonium increases in this hilarious melee, so do the laughs. The entire company is brought to the precipice by their own petty behavior, both on and off stage, along with the conveniently placed props including a fire axe, a cactus plant and whiskey bottles aplenty. Here on our stage, the two plots can be kept separate no longer, coalescing into an hysterical nervous breakdown of the entire cast.

The Paul Bunyan Playhouse welcomes artistic director Zach Curtis back for this promising season. Joining Curtis for this production is stage manager Kris Detailleur, lighting designer Brent Anderson, costume designer Andrea Gross, property designer Connor Norton and scenic designer Justin Hooper.

For the season, "Noises Off" will be followed by "I Do! I Do!," "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," "The 39 Steps" and the grand finale, "Annie." Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 adult Sunday matinee and opening night and $12 for students. All tickets may be purchased through the box office at (218) 751-7270, online at or on the Chief Theatre or Paul Bunyan Playhouse Facebook pages.

If you go

What: "Noises Off," opening of Paul Bunyan Playhouse's 64th summer season.

Where: Historic Chief Theater, downtown Bemidji.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; event runs through June 14 with shows Wednesday through Sunday (matinee) the first week and June 11-14 the second week.

Cost: Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 adult Sunday matinee and opening night and $12 for students. All tickets may be purchased through the box office at (218) 751-7270, online at or on the Chief Theatre or Paul Bunyan Playhouse Facebook pages.

Upcoming shows: "I Do! I Do!," June 18-28; "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," July 2-12; "The 39 Steps," July 16-26; "Annie," July 30-Aug. 9.