In writing what actress Kate Jennings Grant refers to as a "masterpiece" of a door-slamming farce, playwright Michael Frayn, it seems, also inadvertently created a play so chock-full of intricately grueling comic choreography that it barely leaves its ensemble room to breathe.
"It's not a fun show to do," says Grant, one of the nine hilarious (and exhausted) stars in Roundabout Theatre Company's current Broadway revival of Frayn's comedy Noises Off. "Backstage, we're so neurotically focused," she explained. Nevertheless, Grant and her costars (which include Andrea Martin, Campbell Scott, David Furr, and more) have managed to enjoy themselves in the show's short run — mostly while actually performing. As Jeremy Herrin's production comes to a close this weekend, Grant reflected on the shining onstage experiences that made it all worth it — and a few amusing backstage moments that are probably worth remembering too.
1. What is your favorite line that you deliver?
It's not a line. It's the sardine crawl, as we call it, which is when Belinda just crawls on her belly, like a military Band of Brothers kind of crawl, to reach the plate of sardines, which then turns into a dramatic roll then evolved into kind of a worm move onstage. That's the absolute funniest because it's one of those moments that nobody sees coming and is just guaranteed laughs. I can't self-sabotage in any way if I just do what Michael Frayn says to do.
2. Everyone loves inside jokes. What is the best one from your show?
You know what's funny, it's so rapid-fire that there's really no time for giggles, but Campbell Scott has a line to Freddie where he says he must deliver information "with looks and gestures," and every day Campbell does a different look and a different gesture. And I almost always break onstage. In fact, once in a talkback someone called me out on it and said, "That was really you laughing at Campbell Scott, right?" And I said, "Correct." I wish we had a montage of them because it is beyond funny.
3. Every show experiences technical difficulties. What was the worst technical difficulty experienced during your show and how was it handled?
The worst time was probably during previews. In between Act Two and Act Three, when in Nothing On there are huge technical difficulties, we had two curtains kind of crash into each other, there was glass breaking and the audience thought it was part of the show. In Noises Off the show has to stop and restart and we had to stop and restart the stopping and restarting because it was just a disaster within a disaster…but we didn't really have to make an announcement because people thought it was part of the play.
4. What was the most "interesting" present someone gave you at the stage door?
A woman had individually wrapped brownies for every cast member which was really appreciated after a two-show day. Thankfully they were safe to eat because I just downed one.
5. Who is the coolest person who came to see your show? (You can't say family!)
Hands down, Steve Martin. I walked out onstage and he was literally the first person I saw. [And] through the entire show, you couldn't help but look out at him to see, "Does Steve Martin think that's funny?"
He came backstage and it was one of the most moving, gracious backstage visits I have ever had. It was one of the greatest moments of my professional career, I have to say. To be complimented by Steve Martin meant the world. I threw a Jerk birthday party when I was 11 years old…which I did not tell him. I was trying to play it cool.
6. What was the hardest comic choreography to learn?
The hardest to learn is the second act because…you're actually performing a play to a brick wall behind the stage and then doing a pantomime dumb show onstage while listening for cues from people backstage…I'm also not a prop actor. Some people are great at props and I'm horrible. Some people track their props effortlessly and I'm going, "Wait, do I hold the birdcage right now or the teapot?"
7. What was the most memorable audience reaction?
I can't see it, because I'm about to make an entrance, but when David Furr falls down the stairs — I've actually never seen it because I was too afraid to watch it in the rehearsal room — I hear the audience reaction every night, which is like, "gasp and scream, silence, clapping and then laughter." It's like a five tier audience response and it is virtually the same every night.
8. What is it like to bring such an unabashed comedy to Broadway?
It's wonderful to show this side of yourself and also I think the world needs a lighthearted fun comedy that distracts you from everything going on in the world. And people at the stage door say, "Thank you for this. I needed this. I needed a break. I needed to laugh."
9. What is your most memorable Noises Off moment from your career?
At the first dress tech rehearsal of Guys on Dolls on Broadway, during my first entrance, someone opened a trap door onstage and I fell through it. I hadn't even gotten a line out yet. I was singing something and thank god I landed on Oliver Platt, who kind of saved my life. That was the most terrifying freak accident I've had so far.
10. Which of your cast members is the funniest offstage?
That's really hard. Really, everyone is absolutely hysterical in their own insane way. [But] Andrea Martin's self-deprecating critiques of her own performance [and] her description of her level of fatigue…upon each exit off stage…is one of the highlights of the show.