Christiane Noll Gets Belly Laughs in The Cottage
Christiane Noll knows her way around the New York stage, so when it came to making the trek to Northport for what would be her Long Island debut in Sandy Rustin's new play The Cottage, she only had one major obstacle: the traffic.
Despite the never-ending mess that come with Long Island highways, the star of Broadway musicals such as Ragtime and Chaplin is enjoying her time at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, where she gets to perform opposite her husband, Jamie LaVerdiere.
The Cottage is a new farce inspired by the works of Noël Coward. Set in the English countryside in 1923, the story of sex, betrayal, and love unfolds when a high-society woman (Rachel Pickup) decides to expose her love affair to her husband (LaVerdiere) and her lover's wife (Noll). The meanings of marriage and fate unfold as a humorous web of secrets are unveiled in the murderously hysterical romantic comedy.
Noll spoke with TheaterMania about performing with her husband, working in the period of the '20s, and getting big laughs over her character's showstopping flatulence.
How do you describe your character in The Cottage without giving too much away about the constant surprises?
Marjorie is kind of a steamroller and a bit of a bulldog. She's very pregnant, which explains why she's a bit of a steamroller and a bulldog. We like to say she's about twelve months pregnant.
How do you find the experience of strapping on a baby bump at every performance?
First of all, I have to say that where the theater got the baby bump is very disturbing. Who knew there's a website that exists for people who want to fake their pregnancies? They sell all kinds of accoutrement to go along with it, from pregnancy tests to bellies in different sizes! Mine is an eight-month-size belly, but then because we wanted her to be twelve months pregnant we added a little extra foam layer. It's made out of the silicon that you would use to make fake boobs, so it has weight and movement to it. It has a belly button and everything. I strap it on and it feels strangely familiar. My husband got immediately excited by it, which is so silly. He was, like, "Oh, I remember this!" There was something kind of comforting about putting the belly on every night.
Sandy Rustin's script is very reliant on actors who are quick with timing. You seemed to be really involved with making it come alive and being in the moment.
It was interesting to talk to Sandy and [director] B.T. McNicholl about the audition process. There are a lot of really brilliant actors who can play anything, but there are some things that you have to sort of understand that you can't really teach to somebody. Inevitably, there's going to be that person who walks in the door and they just get it. In some pieces it's more apparent than others, and this is one of them. It's mostly because this is a style that's a drawing room, high farce, dating back to the twenties and thirties, an elegant time that we don't visit as much anymore. Therefore, when something like that comes to you, you go, "Oh, I get this!" There's such a rhythm and a timing to this piece. The laughter is an equal part of the timing. If you don't hit it just right then all of a sudden you lose the melody; it doesn't flow as well. We've all been equally aware of how much the whole piece depends on each cog to run properly. That's been really fun.
You and your real-life husband, Jamie, are finally getting the opportunity to play opposite each other onstage. How has that added to the experience of working on The Cottage?
We actually met working on a show where we had a couple of exchanges here and there, but we haven't really done a play together. Last summer at Cape Playhouse we did 1776, but he was Edward Rutledge and I was Abigail Adams, so we didn't overlap at all. The Cottage has been a hoot to maneuver! I think he's really extraordinary, giving, generous, and thoughtful, so it has been fun to watch him firsthand. It's hard sometimes because we're commuting two hours, we're doing the show, and then we're commuting two hours again, but I think in a lot of ways it has helped bring us closer together as a family. I don't know that that would always happen when working with family.
You get a showstopping moment in which you grace the cast and the audience with a
tremendous bout of flatulence. How did you develop that scene?
It was entirely in the script. They started playing different sound cues, and once
McNicholl and Rustin decided how long they wanted the moment to last, they gave me
the recording and I decided to choreograph it like a dance according to what I was
hearing. No one really told me to do anything about it — they just let me go! It was fun.
My goodness, they found all sorts of pitches and different tones: long, short, explosive…I would love to say that there were funny notes to go along with it, but they never gave me notes!