Uncle Bardie’s Movie of the Week: What Happens Backstage Never Stays Backstage

Once a week on Monday, Uncle Bardie shares a movie with his Readers he gives a big two thumbs up. It will simply be a short excerpt or a trailer. From time to time, a reflection on the movie will appear below the video. So pop some popcorn and give yourself a treat. This week’s movie is “Noises Off” (1992):

When I was writing the section on Hamlet’s interaction with the actors, another wonderfully, comic play on film came to mind. Peter Bogdanovich’s film of of the play, “Noises Off”, is any theatrical director’s nightmare. That is to say that the farce probably occurs more than you’d like to think.

While we’re saying, “It’s a hit”, the director and the actors most likely are saying, “I will never, under any circumstances, work with those people ever again.” And they say it adamantly to themselves as they reveal in interview after interview, “This was such a wonderful company. I have never, in my long career, worked with such delightful people.” Then they are asked, “So you would work with these people again?” Their response, “At the drop of a hat.” All the time, cursing under their breath.

Michael Caine is the director of the cast from hell. It’s the dress rehearsal for the opening in Des Moines. Carol Burnett can’t get her lines right, even though she is being encouraged by John Ritter. It’s those darn sardines. And the newspaper. And the telephone.

Then there’s the problem with the doors. They don’t open and close the way they should. And there’s the actor with the drinking problem. And more sardines. One minute they are there and the next they are missing, and then they are back again. And the actor who needs an explanation why he will take the groceries into the study. Unfortunately the sardines and the newspaper is stuck to his hands. Plus it’s hard to do a quick change without a dresser. There are more problems with this production than there were with the Titanic. Wonder if the Titanic had problems with sardines?

“We’re two lines away from the end of Act 1,” the director encourages the actress to do the two lines, hoping against hope that the gods will put him out of his pain and soon. And, oh, the stage manager, Julie Hagerty, is pregnant with the director’s baby.

In Miami, Carol Burnett breaks up with John Ritter and locks herself up in her dressing room. Carol went out the previous night with Christopher Reeve, listening to all his problems. Christopher Reeve is dating Marilu Henner, so there’s nothing between Carol and Christopher.

That isn’t the way John Ritter sees it.  Then the curtain rises for the matinee. John Ritter is about to make Christopher Reeve’s life hell during the performance. And the drunk gets hold of the wine that the director meant for the blonde, Nicolette Sheridan. What’s worse is the drunk can’t keep his pants up.

As you can imagine, the performances backstage are much more hilarious than what is going on onstage. It’s amazing how much those darn sardines get around.  It’s enough to make a director turn to the bottle himself. One thing is for sure. One should not bring a cactus backstage in times like these.

Then it’s on to the final horror. Cleveland.

Hamlet and the Speakeasy

I can counterfeit the deep tragedian;
Speak and look back, and pry on every side,
Tremble and start at wagging of a straw,
Intending deep suspicion.
Richard III Act 3 Scene 5.

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 3 Scene 2. Every actor in the world wants to be the director. With one exception. Michael Caine. Sir Michael knows an easy road when he sees one. He learned during his working-class odd-job early life not to make waves. Directors make waves. Partially because it’s their job to piss people off, especially actors and producers. Partially they can’t help themselves.

Now here’s Hamlet. Right up front he wants to piss the actors off. By telling them how to do their job. Here he’s telling them to speak the speak and speech the speech. As if they don’t know how to speak the speech and speech the speak. They ought to. They have done it something like one thousand and fifty-four and a half times.

That half time is stretching it a bit. This visiting acting troupe hadn’t done a good job at the halftime celebrations of the Superbowl between the Martin Luthers and the Torquemada Inquisitors. They did a bit on the Ninety-five Theses. They called it the Ninety-six Thesis because it was the thesis that the Martin Luthers left out. This thesis claimed that Jesus was six feet seven and had played pro basketball for the Nazareth Carpenters. That went against the Church’s teaching.

According to the Church teaching on Jesus’ basketball career, the Good Lord was seven feet tall and had played for the Bethlehem Cradles. The Church had stained glass to prove it. They had Jesus’ contract for forty-five shekels for his rookie year. He played three games, then he was out for the season. He had injuries in his two palms. Something about splinters. Basically it put him out for good. Jesus never played pro basketball again. A little touch football with His Boys but never anything pro. As they say, everybody has a cross to bear and that was His.

Except for that screw-up, this acting troupe had standing room audiences at all its performances. Now here was the Hamster, an amateur, trying to tell them how to do their job. But he was paying the bill, so they let him do his thing. They just didn’t listen and went about their acting biz the way they always did. Professionally.

Hamlet must have thought he was William Shakespeare. Had Hamlet lived it is very likely that he would have gone to London and started his own theater troupe. Now that would have been a hoot. Not.

Hamlet was so good at tragedy he could have been the next Chris Marlowe. When it came to comedy, it was an ix-nay on that. From the evidence we have seen in the play so far, all Hamlet could do was sad, really sad. He would have made “The Massacre at Paris” look like a children’s play.

The Elizabethans would have run from his plays, barfing. ‘Course that would have made him even more popular since the Elizabethans loved to barf. Francis Bacon wrote three treatises on the subject. Queen Elizabeth, for whom the era was named, had contests at court to see who the best barfer was. Leicester won them hands down. Guess that was why he was the Favorite-in-Chief.

Hamlet would have been the one that all those scholars think was The Bard. Alas, it was not to be. But Hamlet still made his mark anyway. Thanks to Horatio, his story became the most popular in all the world. Folks as far away as Cathay would get a taste of it. It would be seen by more audiences than any other drama, except The Game of Thrones. So Hamlet can take his bow.

Now Hamlet gets the chance to produce, direct, and playwright. Who knows? He may even have played the ghost. Just like William the Playwright played the ghost but not the lead. Oh, that’s right. There isn’t a ghost in the Gonzago play. But no worries. Hamlet has written a part for himself. He will Olivier this little tragedy the actors perform. Talk about Multiple Personality Syndrome. Hamlet was a regular Orson Welles. A Mr. Multiple Personality.

Hamlet and the Knock-knock joke

This is the short and the long of it. The Merry Wives of Windsor Act 2, Scene 2.

You know Shakespeare invented the knock-knock joke. In  Act 1 Scene 1, “Hamlet” begins with “Who’s there?” Made me wonder if “Hamlet” was one long knock-knock joke without a punch line.

You know, in those days, there were not any knock-knock jokes going around. Until:

Barnardo: “Knock knock.”

Francisco: “Who’s there?”

Barnardo: “Eliza.”

Francisco: “Eliza Who?”

Barnardo: “Eliza Bet You Can’t Be Queen.

Francisco: “I may not be Queen but I sure can sing.”

Barnardo: “Sing?”

Francisco: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”

Okay, you didn’t get it. Shakespeare did, and so did Freddie Mercury.

This “Who’s there?” asked by Francisco, the guard on the turret, sets the whole mood and theme of the play. The play is about who is who and what is what and getting it all sorted out.

Do you have a favorite knock-knock joke?