Centreville High Theater Director Mark Rogers says the group of students he's working with now is "probably the most talented cast" he's had in his six years at the school.
And Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 17-19, they're performing the play, "Noises Off," in the school theater. Tickets are $7, and performances are at 7:30 p.m. each night, plus a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee — and that night is Centreville's Cappie show.
"THIS IS the show we were supposed to do four years ago, but we lost the rights, three weeks before the show was to open," said Rogers. "So we scrambled and picked 'Rumors,' which had the same amount of roles — and we wound up winning Best Play at the Cappies."
Now, Centreville's revisiting "Noises Off." And, said Rogers, "As difficult as it was to put on a show in three weeks, we found that this show is difficult enough, having eights weeks. Our students play actors playing characters in a play and, in act two, what goes on backstage during the show is all pantomimed while — at the same time — they're doing the play within a play."
However, according to the International Thespian Society, "Noises Off" is also the fourth most popular play done by American high schools. Rogers says that's because "it's such a wonderful comedy with slapstick and great one-liners and it's so challenging for the actors."
Calling it "the perfect comedy, with quick-witted dialogue and a great storyline," he said his cast is doing a "phenomenal job — and I'm not accepting anything less."
The show's about a group of Broadway actors trying to perform a play called "Nothing On." Opening night is the next day, but problems arise between the actors and things start falling apart.
Junior Tande Berry, 16, portrays Poppy, the neurotic stage manager. "When stuff starts falling apart, she breaks down and doesn't try to help anyone," said Berry. "The play's director, Lloyd Fellows, has gotten her pregnant and, throughout the play, she's trying to break the news to him."
Berry said the hardest part is letting the audience in on the characters' secrets, while keeping the other actors in the dark. But she enjoys working with her castmates and illustrating "such drastic emotions." And, she said, "It's really funny and, whenever we rehearse, we're all cracking up at the script."
Sophomore Nate Betancourt, 15, plays stage manager Tim Allgood. "He's been completely deprived of sleep and has been doing last-minute adjustments to the set," said Betancourt. "He's under pressure, completely nervous, and just loses it — but he's good at what he does."
HE LOVES his role and says the audience will embrace the show, as well. "With the brilliant comedic timing that the actors and script have, I think they'll completely fall in love with it," he said.
Betancourt said "noises off" refers to a show's background music and noises and, when a director wants quiet, he or she yells, "Noises off." In this play, he said, these words also symbolize "the constant arguments on stage and the actors having to stop and concentrate on what they're doing."
Senior Natalie Carneal, 17, plays Mrs. Clackett and Dotty. Mrs. Clackett is the character Dotty plays in "Nothing's On," which the students perform during the show. "Dotty's an actress who's been out of the spotlight and is trying to make her comeback in 'Nothing's On' and it means a lot to her," said Carneal. "But when she realizes the play's not going well, she gives up."
While performing it, she said, "Everyone's screaming at each other and the director's going crazy, doors are slamming, props are being misplaced and it's totally chaotic and really funny." She likes her character's clever humor, but said playing her can be tricky.
Said Carneal: "In the third act, I have to switch from Mrs. Clackett's cockney accent to Dotty, over and over, quickly, so I had to memorize my lines in different accents."
Even if the students did a so-so job, she said, the play would still be funny. But, she added, "Since it's so well-written, if we really hit it and get all our lines, timing and blocking right, it'll be hilarious. We'll have to slow down our lines so the audience can have time to stop laughing and listen to us."
Portraying Selsdon, the lovable drunk, is senior Jamal Crowelle, 17. "He's not drunk, most of the time, but he's always trying to get alcohol," said Crowelle. "He's a seasoned actor but, because he's so lovable, he doesn't have to try as hard to be successful. People have always believed he's a great actor, and he plays a burglar in the show."
He said his character is the only actually British actor playing someone British in "Nothing On." It's also the "most complex and hardest show" he's ever done. For example, he said, "Ninety percent of the second act is pantomime."
Still, said Crowelle, "This is the most fun I've had doing a comedy because this character is just funny, period." As for "Noises Off," he said, "Since it's so hard a show to do, if we do it right — which we plan — this'll be the funniest show ever put on here."
Junior Doug Watkins, 16, plays the show's director, Lloyd Dallas, who loses his temper easily and doesn't always think things through before speaking. "But he always has the actors' best interests at heart," said Watkins. "In the first two acts, he's in control, but he so falls apart in the third act, and I like feeling the shift."
He said the audience will like how fast everything moves and will "be laughing, the whole show. They'll get caught up in the reality of 'Noises Off' and that's what they'll love."
Senior Sarah Langan, 17, portrays Brooke who plays Vicki in the show. "Brooke's really ditzy, and the play characterizes her like a floozy," said Langan. "And in 'Nothing's On,' my character is involved with Roger."
SHE SAID it's her favorite play Centreville's done. "My character's fun because she's oblivious to what's going on around her — and that's where the humor comes from," explained Langan. "In act three, everything falls apart and everyone else changes their lines to adapt to what's happening. But she goes on with her normal lines as if nothing's changed."
Senior Mickey De Vito, 18, plays actor Gary who plays character Roger. "Gary's kind of full of himself but, in reality, is insecure," said De Vito. "He has a hard time articulating his ideas to the other actors. I like the role because it's close to the physical comedy that's one of my acting strengths."
He said his character's actions are large and exaggerated and there's not a part of the show that's not funny. De Vito's also on the tech crew and said the set is shown from both the actors' perspective and the audience's. It's also hard to build, he said, "because it's a full, two-story interior of a house — and it revolves."
Senior Mary Caitlin Barrett, 17, portrays Belinda who plays character Flavia. "Belinda's a big gossip who shares what she's told," said Barrett. "She's kinda evil, but she gets away with it because people think she's nice. And Flavia's like a 'Desperate Housewife,' yuppie and rich."
Barrett likes interacting with the other cast members and says "Noises Off" is truthful because "you get a sneak peak at what a cast is really like. Some people like or don't like each other, but they still have to act the way their characters act."