'Noises Off' a fine British farce and Cavarozzi's last big show for WSU

3:26:03 PM CDT - Thursday, March 02, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

There's really nothing new about "Noises Off," Mainstage Theatre's next production. It's been a popular play since the '80s, and the British farce was even made into a movie starring Carol Burnett and Michael Caine in 1992.

Joyce Cavarozzi
File photo by Inside WSU

Joyce Cavarozzi, who plans to retire this spring after spending 40 years sharing her love for theater with WSU students, will direct her last major production at WSU: "Noises Off," which runs March 16-19.
There is, however, something interesting about this particular production: It's Joyce Cavarozzi's final directorial effort for the Mainstage program. She has decided to retire this year.

The popular professor has been working with Wichita State students and putting on plays for more than 40 years on campus. Her community and regional ties run just as deep.

"Joyce is a well-respected teacher-artist who has shaped the school's theater program and reputation through her dedication to artistry and student learning," said Steve Peters, chair of the School of Performing Arts.

Cavarozzi has designed costumes for more than 150 productions and directed more than 100, and has performed on stage, television and film.

She has received the Kennedy Center Gold Medallion for her work in educational theater and also won the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival Commendation for Excellence.

Cavarozzi laughed at the idea of telling some of her story in this story about "Noises Off." "Just tell about the play," she said. "Let me have an audience."

Getting a good audience shouldn't be difficult, in fact. Among the most well-known and much loved of contemporary British comedies, "Noises Off" has been performed by theater companies throughout the world since winning the London Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy in 1982.

Cavarozzi gives the play and its author high praise.

"Michael Frayn is a genius, and I don't use the word often," she said. Frayn, besides being a playwright with other successes on stage as well, has translated Chekhov and is a medical doctor.

"Noises Off" is classic British farce, Cavarozzi said, full of not only funny dialogue and character but the physical action that goes with it.

"There's nothing deep about any farce; it makes you laugh," she said. It also gives student thespians a great opportunity to apply their skills to physical comedy, she stressed.

"Noises Off" is actually a play within a play. The story is about the comic hitches and physical glitches of a repertory theater company performing and touring a play that is itself shown on the stage in a fabulous set design, Cavarozzi said.

"It's two stories, and it has one set where the play takes place and then a backstage that pivots," she said. That gives the actors stairs to run up and fall down, in addition to all the slapstick possibilities of having four doors and windows on stage.

"I've directed the show before, and it is very complex and difficult technically," she said. It's an all-student cast and a mix of students and faculty on the crew.

Since "Noises Off" is her last large production for the university, will Cavarozzi feel sentimental at the end of the production?

"There's always a letdown when any show closes, the focus and commitment has been so long," she said. "It's one of the joys of theater. We get involved with the students and get close to so many."

But no, Cavarozzi doesn't really anticipate much sadness anytime this spring. She's staying busy and that makes her happy.

"We're doing 'Vagina Monologues' (March 3; Cavarozzi directing) and a Readers Theater stage reading (in April; she'll supervise)," she said. Her summer plans include some directing, working with Nick Johnson's Alithea Theatre, visiting Stratford-upon-Avon in England, directing at New Mexico's Presbyterian Ghost Ranch, housesitting in North Carolina and spending time in California with family that now includes two "brilliant and talented" granddaughters, she said.

Jay Mandt, associate professor and honors program director, hopes to lure Cavarozzi back to teach the freshmen honors seminar in fine arts.

"I've always heard astonishing stories about her honors class, amazing stories from students about how much fun it is to work with her," said Mandt. "I will have her back at every opportunity."

Cavarozzi said she'd consider that offer. She has always loved the honors seminar, which she teaches every fall. It's a small class of about 15 students from different disciplines who get exposed, through Cavarozzi, to various aspects of the fine arts and must come up with a creative project of their own.

The honors seminar is as good for her as it is for the students, she said.

"When you're in any discipline you can get tunnel vision," said Cavarozzi. "So I get whole new perspectives on my work, too."

"Noises Off," rated G, will run at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, March 16-18, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, March 19, in Wilner Auditorium. Tickets are $10 with discounts available through the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.

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