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THEATER GONE INSIDE-OUT

KrolljonesshafferHere’s Noises Off star Glenn Jones (center) celebrating art and life with director Gary Shaffer (right). At left is actor Michael Kroll, who’s not in this show, but a frequent cohort of the others nonetheless. (Photo by Lauren Morris)

By TOM CHESEK

On one stage, there’s a self-conscious sex farce that turns the theatergoing experience completely inside out. On another, a classic of the English language, wrenched from the proscenium and tossed out onto the lawn like your ex’s clothes.

All this and more can be found this weekend at venues within the greater Red Bank oRBit.

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A satirical smash that’s a sly commentary on every door-slamming, drawers-dropping comedy ever written — as well as a mighty fine door-slamming, drawers-dropping comedy in its own right — Michael Frayn’s 1982 Noises Off puts a high-concept spin on some of the oldest theatrical devices in the book, giving its large cast a run for its money while sending the idea of the “backstage show” whirling like an out-of-control revolving door.

In this play-within-a-play, the audience watches a British stage company stumble its way through a rehearsal of the first act of a tawdry bedroom farce. We then watch the troupe performing a matinee of that same act of the same tawdry bedroom farce, only seen from backstage with a view of the many tensions and turmoils among the cast. Finally, we see that same first act once again, horrendously rendered by the tired troupe at the end of their run, when tempers flare, things fall apart and all hell breaks loose.

It’s a show that’s commonly revived with a revolving set, Indy 500-style crew breakdowns or other star-quality stagecraft. It’s not a show that’s commonly done inside a small barn that’s been converted into a modestly scaled community playhouse.

But that’s precisely what Holmdel Theatre Company intends to do, beginning tonight and continuing for the next four weekends at its Duncan Smith Theater on Crawford’s Corner/Everett Road.

Tbm06lrBill Lee, Charles Deitz and Rick Makin star in the First Avenue Playhouse production of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

Exactly how they plan to pull this off is ingenious to say the least; if you ask the director, however, the success of the show won’t be riding so much on stage gimmickry as “giving the audience a really funny show with a solid cast.”

Helming the mayhem is Gary Shaffer of Toms River, a ph.D in phunny whose directorial forays in Monmouth County are infrequent, although he’s racked up credits at colleges, community stages and dinner theatres throughout the area. He’s built up a particular specialty in the works of British farceur Ray Cooney, whose hilariously Hilly (as in Benny) sex romps — with titles like Run For Your Wife and Not Now, Darling — have really come to life in Shaffer’s productions at Ocean County College and other venues. This is all in between his work as an off-Broadway publicity guy, and his burgeoning career as guitarist and vocalist with The Snakes, a regional band who put a traditional Irish spin on material ranging from back-country folk to The Clash (think Shane McGowan and the Pogues with good dental hygiene).

That solid cast looks to be a corker as well. Comic character ace and Shaffer stock-company man Glenn Jones, fresh off Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore’s Wrong Window, toplines the big cast with Michael Chartier, a veteran of countless Shore productions (most recently the original musical William’s Dark Lady in Spring Lake) and a Shaffer top-shelfer to boot. Barbara Bonilla and Rebecca Harris co-star, with fellow Van Zandt-Milmore irregular Geoff Shields adding his talents to Shaffer’s brew. Noises Off runs Fridays and Saturdays through August 2 (with Sunday matinees on July 20 and 27); tickets ($20) can be reserved by calling (732)946-0427.

John Bukovec, meanwhile, is a man who knows his Shakespeare inside and out. In fact, he’s not been bashful in admitting that he’s performed Macbeth outdoors, in the middle of July, in fur boots and fur-lined kilt. But what truly makes this Brookdale Community College faculty member the chairman of the Bard is the summer-vacation project he’s helmed for the past seven years — the BCC Summer Shakespeare Ensemble and its annual presentation of live Elizabethan-era theater, outdoors, the way the Bard intended. It’s a series that continues now through July 20 with Romeo and Juliet, that timeless classic of forbidden love and one hellacious family feud.

As in past seasons, all performances are presented free of charge beneath the sun, moon and stars on the Great Lawn, located behind Larrison Hall on the school’s Lincroft campus. Audiences are encouraged to make themselves comfy with beach blankets, folding chairs and coolers, and there’s a backup plan in case of tempest, with the show going on indoors at the nearby Performing Arts Center. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for the production to come to Red Bank’s Riverside Gardens anymore, as considerations of added lighting, amplification, street noise and other distractions (a guy with bike riding across set, we kid you not) combined to force a decision to phase out all off-campus performances.

Still, the director and his faithful crew and cast (more than a hundred actors have taken part in these detail-intensive, unpaid adventures) will be there in full force, with Adam Pucci of Keansburg and Toni Serpa of Oakhurst topping a mostly-Monmouth cast as the famous “star-cross’d lovers” of the title. Audra Taliercio of Colts Neck and stock-company stalwart Bob Grill appear as the Capulets, with Middletown residents Zachary Chrzan and Michael Meinberg also in the troupe. Romeo and Juliet continues with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7p, and Sundays at 5p. For additional info, call 732.224.2411.

Just across the road, producer Mark Fleming and his Premier Theatre Company follow up their star-studded successful run of Jesus Christ Superstar with a revival of Damn Yankees, George Abbott’s 1955 Faustian farce about a disgruntled baseball fan who trades his soul to the devil for the chance to power his favorite team past the hated Bronx Bombers. Throw in a temptress named Lola and you’ve got a dependable staple of summer stock. The show, which runs ten performances through July 27, goes up at the Henderson Theatre (on the grounds of Christian Brothers Academy) off Newman Springs Road in Lincroft. Tickets ($26 general admission) can be reserved right here.

Over in Atlantic Highlands, the comedy specialists at First Avenue Playhouse take an election-year detour into somewhat different territory, with a revival of The Best Man, Gore Vidal‘s sharply written 1960 meditiation on the vaudeville of presidential politics and dirty tricks. Whether you regard it as a time-capsule classic or as a hypercurrent offering with much to say to us still, this tale of “back room deals, mud-slinging and sexual peccadilloes” at an old-school party convention still packs a punch. Jim Memmott and Hal Holst direct a local cast that includes such seasoned favorites of the community stage as Rick Makin, Bill Lee and Charlie Deitz — First Avenue regulars one and all. All shows served up with coffee and dessert; tickets ($20) can be obtained here, along with info on available dinner packages.

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