Ditzes, Doormats, and Noises Off

Last Thursday I attended the Gladstone’s production of Noises Off on behalf of (Cult)ure Magazine (my review can be read here).  While I realize that all the characters in Michael Frayn’s play are two dimensional archetypes, used as vehicles to drive the comedy, I was particularly disappointed with Frayn’s depiction of women in this well known comedy.

 Frayn has written a collection of ditzes and doormats falling on comedic stereotypes that were dated long before Frayn wrote his script. I find this particularly frustrating as an audience member because comedies have been recycling these stereotypical female characters for so long that they have become worse than clichés. Quite simply, there is nothing new here and comedy works best when it is founded on the unexpected.

 On a personal note, I am friends with two of the actresses who performed in Noises Off both of whom are fine actresses. Michelle Leblanc and Colleen Sutton both impressed me at Ottawa’s Fringe and while they do an admirable job with what they are given in this play, Frayn has given them very little to work with. That’s a shame.

 Offstage, both these women are the furthest thing from either ditz or doormat. They are intelligent, vibrant women, who are extremely dedicated to their craft.  They are not alone. This town is blessed with a large collection of talented actresses and yet sometimes there seems to be a shortage of roles where these actresses can really shine.

I would encourage all the theatres, and theatre companies, in Ottawa to consider this when selecting the scripts they will perform. No more ditzes and doormats! Let’s see some vibrant female characters on the stage that will push the actresses playing them to new heights.

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10 responses to “Ditzes, Doormats, and Noises Off

  1. Well said and a great call to action! I propose we extend the call to action to Ottawa playwrights as well!

  2. Wayne, you mention you are friends with two of the actresses… I wonder if that is biasing your thinking on this matter. Is your frustration really coming from the fact that the characters weren’t a three dimensional as you would of liked, or were you just upset that your friends didn’t have more to work with?

    I know I liked Noises Off a lot more than you, and I wonder if its because I don’t really mind archetypical characters. Maybe its because I read comic books for so many years, but, for me, there’s almost nothing better than an archetypical character doing archetypical things!

    As a audience member, I like being able to recognize the tropes playing out before me. As a friend of actors, though, I would probably want more fully realized characters for them to play.

    Noises Off isn’t a character piece. It’s not about who these people are. Its about what they are doing. That’s where the humour comes from.

    • Thanks for your reply Kevin. We both agree that this production of Noises Off is a well executed production. This is why I gave it a favourable review.

      In this blog post, I was trying to raise a broader issue: I would prefer theatres and theatre companies choose scripts that don’t fall back on these well worn clichés. Contemporary local playwrights would also be wise to be sensitive to these concerns because they will result in stronger scripts that take advantage of the many talented actresses in this town who are currently, I would argue, being under utilized in many cases.

      I wasn’t that clear with that distinction so thank you for calling it to my attention.

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! This post = Awesomesauce!

    In this day of proclaimed equality, gender oppression still persists in the most insidious ways. It does take brains to play dumb convincingly, but like it more when an actor’s smarts are front and centre.

    A friend once criticized my choice to always write women as my lead characters. I love my friend, but in this instance I told them to suck it!

    There are plenty passive, reactive female characters. I’m happy to write work that put the ladies front and centre.

  4. But of course. Now, that being said we do have two theatre companies in Calgary dedicated to theatre by and for women. They have ultimately folded together leaving us with just one women-centred company but I suppose one is better than none.

    I find that the smaller, more experimental theatres will put up some strong one-woman shows but the big houses definitely fail to promote strong female roles.

    The situation has always confused me. In 5 years of running a little community theatre we struggled every single year finding enough talented men to fill roles but would be overflowing with women. We cast women in men’s roles more times than I can remember.

    (also, I just have a general enthusiasm for feminist values)

    • Thanks for elaborating Lady Rose. I appreciate your insights on this issue. The point you raise regarding the casting issue is quite telling I think.

      Like Calgary, there is an abundance of talented actresses, young actresses in particular, here. It would definitely be way healthier for the scene if playwrights and companies took advantage of the demographics at play.

  5. Come see the Remount of BIRTH at the Bronson Centre on OCT 15th. ALL women, women’s stories, lots of talent.

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