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Back Stage Critics' Best of 2003 Lists
Best Choreography - Jennifer Li Aldridge from D. Margolies and M. Shaner
Best Costumes - Laura Brody from M. Shaner
Best Direction - Sean Branney from D. Margolies and M. Shaner
Best Makeup/Hair - Andra Carlson from D. Margolies and M. Shaner
Best Performance - Andrew Leman from M. Shaner
Best Performance - Matt Foyer from T. Roberts
Best Props - Fergal Dooley from D. Margolies
Best Sound - Erik Hockman from M. Shaner
Best Production - Theatre Banshee from M. Shaner

Winner of Maddy Awards (Beverly Press/Park LaBrea News) for
Best Production
Best Original Score - David O
Best Choreography - Jennifer Li Aldridge
Best Costumes - Laura Brody
Best Performer - Andrew Leman

Valley Theatre League ADA Award Nominations for:
Best Ensemble
Best Director: Sean Branney
Best Comedy

Reviews for Theatre Banshee's Red Noses

FACED WITH THE HOPELESS DEVASTATION OF THE BLACK PLAGUE in 1300's France, a desperate monk hits upon his sacred crusade: Cheap laughs for the masses! That is, in a nutshell, the plot of Peter Barnes’ utterly brilliant 1978 play, “Red Noses,” first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985 and currently enjoying a superb revival by Theatre Banshee at the Gene Bua Theatre.

Under the clever, creative direction of company co-founder Sean Brannery [sic.], this production absolutely bristles with intellectual energy and heart. The deep and talented ensemble infuses the story with exactly what it needs: compassion, humanity, and life. The musical selections (often humorous and incorporating recognizably modern songs) are well-chosen and executed.

Even the set design and props in this 99-seat theatre are versatile and interesting. Company veteran Andrew Leman plays the kindly Father Flote, who quickly sees the virtues of tending to men’s souls with the healing power of laughter, even as all around him keel over like tenpins. Leman brings just the right openness and humility to Flote as he gathers his motley crew of wanderers, assassins, and nuns turned performers. Among the many joining his crusade are Bells, a smiling, winsome mute who communicates only by shaking small bells – which naturally all understand; Brodin, a feared mercenary who finds a weakness for the stage; Marguerite, a nun aspiring to be fallen; and Frapper, a would-be stand-up comic with a hilariously debilitating speech impediment.

These and the rest of the vivid characters that make up Flote’s troupe serve as a thousand thorns in the side of strait-laced Father Toulon, forced along for the ride by his superiors in the Church. Their compassionate, tuneful, and cheap-gag-ridden crusade is set against a backdrop of maneuverings by other aspiring movements (such as the Flagellants, led by an amusingly masochistic John Jabaley as Grez) and the highest powers in the Church itself (Matt Foyer’s Pope Clement VI brings to mind Christopher Walken at his least holy).

Although the play is ostensibly about love in the time of plague, it’s less about disease than it is about humanity’s durability and the power of acceptance and tolerance. In that way, it’s rather like “Our Country’s Good” meets “Boogie Nights” meets “Monty Python & The Holy Grail”.

The cast is loaded with standout performances, too many to note here. But among them, Lance J. Holt’s Bells and Rebecca Marcotte’s Frapper are particularly touching; Jennifer Taub’s Marguerite recalls Mae West and Ethel Merman – but in a good way; and Dan Harper’s Brodin makes a convincing change from fearsome killer to passionate artiste.

The supporting performances are uniformly strong, wacky, and strange. Sean Branney’s direction is crisp and boldly theatrical without ever losing the emotional threads of the piece. There are a few quibbles – the production does occasionally slow down, many of the jokes fall flat (something lost in the translation from British to English?) although that works for the characters too, the Christopher Walken Pope sometimes drifts too far afield, and the epilogue is strangely punchless. But those are small detractions from a razor-sharp illumination of a hilarious, insightful and relevant script loaded with ideas and emotion.

The production calls to mind Elvis Costello’s song, “God’s Comic,” which is sung by a newly-deceased comedian whose signature character was a randy, drunken priest – and is now nervously meeting his maker. “Now I’m dead, and I’m going on to meet my reward / I was scared, he might have never heard of God’s Comic.” At the end of the song, the line changes to “You might have never heard, but God’s comic.”

The show carries a similar theme of the importance, indeed, the holiness, of joy. The folks at Theatre Banshee should be proud of this production. It’s certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen in Los Angeles., Reviewed by Rich Delamoona

Pick of the Week - Recommended

British playwright Peter Barnes is noted for shock tactics, scathing satire and his excruciatingly funny perspectives on serious subjects. (His Holocaust play is named Laughter! ) Here, he concocts a rollicking comedy about the Black Plague employing pop music and a grab bag of theatrical styles, from commedia to vaudeville and dance. In the darkest of the plague years, a monk, Father Flote (Andrew Leman), decides God wants him to fight disease and despair with laughter instead of prayers and sermons. He becomes a Clown of God, gathering ‘round him a hilariously incompetent theatrical troupe, including a blind juggler (Barry Lynch), a team of one-legged dancers (David Pavao and Jason McCune), a stuttering prompter (Rebecca Marcotte) and a mute poet (Lance J. Holt) who communicates by ringing bells. There’s also a wayward nun (Jennifer Taub): “I lost my virginity,” she confesses, “but I still have the box it came in.” They’re launched on a collision course with ruthless Pope Clement (Matt Foyer), who correctly equates comedy with anarchy. Director Sean Branney has assembled a wonderful company and led them to dizzying comic heights. Arthur MacBride’s set, Laura Brody’s costumes, David O’s music and Jennifer Li Aldridge’s goofy choreography all add impact to this lethally funny tragedy.

LA Weekly, Reviewed by Neal Weaver

'Red Noses' laughs at the darkness

"What would you call a priest consorting with a lusty, wanton nun?

"Lucky." Ba-dum-bah.

Ecclesiastically themed shtick like this fuels the unlikely collision of Borscht Belt humor and medieval horror in Theatre Banshee's "Red Noses." The company lauds British playwright Peter Barnes' mordant Middle Ages comedy as "the funniest play yet written about the Black Plague," and makes a good case for the claim with a lively, inventive production that taps ensemble skills in commedia, dance and even juggling.

Spanning three ghastly years during the 14th century when the pandemic at its peak claimed a third of Europe's populace, Barnes' play revolves around the efforts of kindly but frustrated Father Flote (Andrew Leman) to bring solace to his rapidly thinning flock. As the social order crumbles around him, Flote, in a moment of divine revelation that his traditional priestly role is useless to save people, dons a clown's nose and resolves, in the best Donald O'Connor tradition, to make 'em laugh instead.

In his wanderings, Father Flote is soon joined by other misfits -- most notably, a bloodthirsty mercenary (Dan Harper), a craven assassin (John Yelvington), a sex-starved nun (Jennifer Taub), an uptight fellow priest (Josh Thoemke) and a Harpo Marx-ish silent jester (Lance J. Holt) who communicates through ringing bells. In their traveling minstrel show, each finds an ironic redemption and meaning even as death looms all around.

By including anachronistic figures of speech and even pop songs ("Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries"), Barnes' script opens the door to an infusion of modern sensibilities, and director Sean Branney enthusiastically embraces the invitation with wit and ingenuity (not least of which lies in accommodating 20 performers on the intimate Gene Bua Theatre stage). David O's atmospheric original music and recordings of rock songs set to Gregorian chant also extend ambience beyond the venue's physical confines.

As one might expect from the author of "The Ruling Class," Barnes characteristically crams a huge volume of fodder through a narrow sieve of a premise, with a great deal of excess and redundancy along the way.

Fortunately, Branney and his high-octane cast skillfully sustain the gallows humor even as they illuminate the play's unexpectedly warm and life-celebrating heart. This is still Barnes, however, so it comes as no surprise that contentment and joy are not lengthy visitors. Then as now, today's heroes are tomorrow's heretics -- and there is always a price to be paid when the norm reasserts itself after a crisis has passed.

Los Angeles Times, Reviewed by Philip Brandes

What’s so funny about the Black Death?

Theatre Banshee, which last year offered a near flawless production of the Irish thriller The Weir, returns to Burbank’s Gene Bua Theatre with an ambitious 20-member ensemble that impressively has its way with Peter Barnes’ medieval tragi-comedy, Red Noses.

Using the miniscule Gene Bua stage to awe-inspiring effect, director Sean Branney infuses Barnes’ work with an infectious commedia dell’arte zest and an infusion of contemporary vaudeville shtick that underscores the humanity that struggled to survive during one of the most tragic periods in the history of Western Civilization.

It is France, 1348. The Black Death is rampaging across Europe, on its way to killing one-third of the continent’s population. Amid the death and decay, raven-masked scavengers rob the dead while zealous flagellants roam the countryside, inflicting severe pain on themselves in hope of gaining God’s intervention to drive away the pestilence. The self-serving clergy, represented by Monsignor Monselet (played by Christopher Neiman), has deserted the populace, leaving behind idealistic Father Flote (Andrew Leman), who believes that he has been called by God to bring a smile to the face of the dying.

Flote proclaims, “God wants peacocks, not ravens, bright stars not sad comets, red noses not Black Death. He wants joy.” Leading an ill-assorted troupe of clowns, a blind juggler (Barry Lynch), a mute bell ringer (Lance J. Holt), two one-legged dancers (David Pavao and Jason McCune), a lustful nun (Jennifer Taub) and a stuttering stand-up comic (Rebecca Marcotte), Flote bombards the suffering with a wondrous cacophony of bad jokes and bawdy skits that are hilarious in their ineptitude.

The musical offerings include such contemporary ditties as “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”, the latter sung to perk up the spirits of a female leper. Barnes tempers the fast-paced zaniness with the detached, ever-observant presence of Pope Clement VI (Matt Foyer) who has taken up residence in Avignon.

Manipulating events with his own grotesque sense of irony, Clement willingly allows Flote’s troupe to “ripple and spread’ their joy among the common folk during the time of disease and adversity but is monumentally swift and cruel in the reclamation of his power over the people once the threat of the plague has ended. The production extends a bit beyond its most effective conclusion, needlessly following Flote and company to a denouement of their heavenly reward, but the overall effect of this work is a powerful affirmation of the human spirit’s unquenchable quest not only to survive but to be happy.

Los Angeles Daily News, reviewed by Julio Martinez

Red Noses

Peter Barnes' tragicomic romp about the Black Death calls to mind some of the choicest episodes of Black Adder, with the hilarious plague humor of Monty Python's The Holy Grail thrown in. "Bring out your dead!" begins the play. A woman stumbles out with a dead cat. Flagellants with bloody clubs mill about whapping themselves until a fight breaks out between a flagellant and a monk, who then attempt to club each other to death. Already we know we are in the dark, sickly, crime-ridden world of Europe in 1348—Auxerre, France, to be precise. We also know the play is going to be brimming with irreverent levity. Characters stop and sing showtunes, juggle, stutter, and trip.

Amid the surrounding pestilence, small-town monk Father Flote (a perfectly cast Andrew Leman) has a realization at the beginning of the play: God wants joy, not misery, "Peacocks not ravens… red noses not Black Death." Flote's plan is to form a comedy/vaudeville troupe called the Red Noses to travel the land and bring happiness—and a bit of moral reflection—to the plague-ridden people, who are dropping like flies. He assembles his troupe of oddball performers, and off they go.

A dynamite cast and Sean Branney's very thorough, skilled direction keep this quip-and-gag-packed show tripping along. Excellent performances abound. Leman is wonderfully buoyant and loveable as well-intentioned Father Flote. As the stubborn priest, Josh Thoemke is Hugh Laurie in the best possible sense—not to take anything from Thoemke's own distinct, enormous talent. Matt Foyer is brilliant as the corrupt and highly idiosyncratic Pope Clement VI, and Jennifer Taub delights as the bawdy nun.

The main problem here is length. It tripped along for nearly a full three hours on the night I attended, and, naturally, slowed to a fatigued and fatiguing trot in the second act. The play could stand a few obvious nips and tucks, as the second act feels as long or longer than the first. Too many jokes and all relevant moral points—about the corruption of the church, the selfishness of aristocracy, the desperation of the poor, the transformative powers of enlightening entertainment—are made not once but twice or thrice. By the play's end we are feeling somewhat flagellated ourselves.

Still, there is much to recommend in this piece. Other red noses offer equally hilarious turns: Barry Lynch as the blind juggler, David Pavao and Jason McCune as a pair of one-legged dancers, Lance J. Holt as a mute who communicates by shaking bells. Indeed, the production contains enough fabulous performances to prove that Theatre Banshee is an abundantly talented company with exciting work in them.

Backstage West, Reviewed by Laura Weinert

Red Noses

Laughter, set free and impulsive, can spread like the plague. That's exactly what happens in this Theatre Banshee production of Peter Barnes' comedy-drama, but mostly comedy, about some goings-on during the 1348-1350 scourge of the Black Death plague, and some riotous goings-on they are. It takes a writer of Barnes' unique approach to look at this subject matter with a sense of humor, along with his noted anti-church approach to that, and this, era.

Andrew Leman plays Father Flote, a disjointed, disowned priest who asks God for a sign of what his mission should be, and discovers that he must fight the tragic march of death with comedy. The troupe he gathers about him is a motley bunch indeed. Leman gives his humorous priest exactly the right show biz pizzazz and savoire-giggle, like an emcee at a local variety show, and his co-workers romp and cavort to an outrageous and delightful degree, in their trademark red noses and their dedication to a silliness which might make the populace forget the terror around them. Lance J. Holt shines brightly as Bells, a mute who communicates with a selection of tiny bells and body movements, understood clearly by all. As LeGrue, a blind juggler who continues his trade in spite of catching nothing [Barry Lynch, ed.] is hilarious and winning in his enthusiasm and his comically outlandish attempts at juggling. Also very winning and indeed a marvelous vocalist for the anachronistic songs inserted throughout, is Jennifer Taub as Marguerite, a nun hoping to get raped for the glory of God. More serious, which makes him even funnier, is the very solid Josh Thoemke as the utterly religious priest Father Toulon, who joins the troupe thinking it just might possibly work, and litters the platform with anti-clerical proclamations and bad jokes. There are the two one-legged Boutros brothers (David Pavao, Jason McCune), providing the company's dance team (think about it) and Rebecca Marcotte as a young man with a speech impediment who prides himself on his proclamations. Dan Harper and John Yelvington also make points as two angry militants who also think Flote has something that might help.

On the serious side are the clerics, serious but no less funny than the others, Matt Foyer's hysterically laughable Pope Clement VI, and Christopher Neiman's sober, ludicrous and slightly boggled Archbishop Monselet. It is in total a cast of 20, many doubling in other roles, including Flagellants who beat themselves to purge sins in a silly way, and Black Ravens, who steal away the dead bodies, making their living by robbing the corpses.

The whole is directed with great energy and an ultimate understanding of Barnes' intent and sense of humor by Sean Branney, who keeps things moving at a madcap pace which works beautifully, and intense insight into the warped capers of this marvelously entertaining glance into a very sad moment of past history from a fresh perspective., reviewed by T.H. McCulloh

Red Noses is a Hilarious Romp

Playwright Peter Barnes regularly thumbs his nose at authority, especially the ecclesiastical variety: Red Noses is no exception. A bawdy, riotously funny play about the Black Death might be a major challenge for a lesser playwright. It might equally be a challenge for a lesser theatre company. Both the playwright and the company, Theatre Banshee, meet the challenge and come out on top. Father Flote, a rotund pixie of a man, beautifully inhabited by Andrew Leman gets a call from God one day that stars him on mission to laugh the terrible 14th Century plague out of existence, to become a Clown of God. He sees his mandate as making people laugh, so if they have to die, which they are already doing in large numbers, at least they’ll die happy. Donning a red nose, touring his home parish of Auxerre, France, by sheer force of goodwill and infectious merriment, he gather around him a funny force to be reckoned with. There’s a blind juggler, LeGrue (Barry Lynch); a sex-starved nun, Marguerite (Jennifer Taub); a mute poet, Bells (Lance J. Holt) who communicates with, yes, bells; a rape-bound mercenary (Dan Harper); a professional assassin (John Yelvington); two one-legged dancers, the Boutros Brothers (Jason McCune and David Pavao); a stuttering comic, Frapper (Rebecca Marcotte); and a sadly miscast priest, Father Toulon (Josh Thoemke), who doesn’t think he belongs with the group, but succeeds in being its staunches member in spite of himself. Thought they can’t save lives, they succeed in raising each other’s consciousness and the sanity of the plague-ridden populace besides. The Floties, as they call themselves, a fictional troupe, are in contention with the Flagellants, a historical cult of ordinary citizens who roamed the streets doing physical penance for the sins of humanity, and, in the final analysis, the Church, which resented the gathering influence of those they eventually labeled heretics.

Director Sean Branney remarkably keeps all the balls bounding merrily in the air as he manipulates 20 actors playing 40 characters in a space that would be crowded with just four. Just handling the multiple deaths is a full time task. Maintaining the wild, anachronistic, non-stop comedy, complete with pop-song choruses set to sacred music, is a breathless, inventive race to the finish… to the finish of the first act, that is. After intermission, the second act starts to pall; the humor begins to wear thin and the story gets attenuated and drags on a bit too long for the average attention span. That it’s not as funny as the first is inevitable; that tragedy must eventually replace comedy is unavoidable. That said, some judicious cutting would wrap this very credible package up in hot time, leaving us weeping through out laughter and still laughing through our tears, rather than through our yawns.

The actors are all amazing, all standouts, with Leman a dazzling lead; Holt charming beyond measure; Taub a stunning female foil for all those manly men, and Marcotte and adorable stand-up who can’t speak up. Matt Foyer is radical as self-loving Pope Clement VI, in an interestingly weird and compelling performance. David O’s original music, Arthur MacBride’s scenic design, Laura Brody’s costumes, Bobby Richard’s lighting, Andra Carlson’s makeup and Erik Hockman’s sound are all excellent testaments to Branney’s clear vision and tremendous organizational powers.

Park LaBrea News/Beverly Press, reviewed by Madeline Shaner

TARTUFFE has had its well-documented troubles with the church of Louis XIV and it is a fair bet that had the Sun King lived to see Peter Barnes's RED NOSES, he might not have lived too long thereafter. It is the 1300s and France is beset by plague. Flagellants try to appease an angry God, Popes and clerics try to keep a hold on a rapidly disappearing populace and opportunists loot whatever they can from the dead and dying. Father Flote, a minor priest, is possessed by The Holy Ghost and instructed to bring what comfort he can to the afflicted through humor and sets about collecting a following to help him clown the common folk to their salvation.

Barnes has written a dramedy with the first act chock full of slapshtick, sight-gags, Borscht-belt jokes delivered by French Catholics yet, and pure, unfettered go-straight-to-hell blasphemy. Andrew Leman's Flote is Leo Buscaglia preincarnated; chubby, full of life (and facial hair), and heaven-bent on finding some good in every situation, no matter how dreadful. This is the man who will walk into a room full of manure and begin digging with joy, convinced that there is a pony somewhere in the mess. His accreting flock is as motley a crew as can fit within the limits of belief suspension. Josh Thoemke is a perfect foil as a deadpan, mopheaded, by-the-book priest ordered by his superiors to follow the unorthodox Father and keep him under observation if not actually in check. Barry Lynch's booming blind juggler steals the show whenever he's on. Pope Clement VI (a very sinister Matt Foyer) grants a variance of convenience to this unorthodoxy so long as it distracts the public from more pressing matters.

The second act takes a hard turn to the dramatic when the plague passes and the government and church reassert their dominion. Flote and his crew are again threats given their philosophy of bypassing the intercessionary authority deputed solely to clerics. Persecution is swift and remorseless; he and his friends are annihilated.

Director Sean Branney cherry-picks from his own Theatre Banshee as well as Pacific Resident Theatre (Jaxon Duff Gwillim, Jennifer Taub), Theatre of NOTE (Christopher Neiman, McKerrin Kelly), and Classical Theatre Lab (Rebecca Marcotte), among others to create a mostly young cast of exceptional range. There are some twenty-odd (very odd) players and Branney marshals and steers them brilliantly around Arthur MacBride's set. Lighting designer Jennifer Li Aldridge keeps things bright against the increasingly gloomy material. The systematics, including the split-second timing, came effortlessly on a jitter-free opening night.

Barnes, like deAngelis, has tossed everything into the mix and some scenes don't seem absolutely necessary. The last quarter of the play drags and works against the brilliance that came before it. A gratuitous final scene with the offed 'heretics' meeting in an offstage heaven comes right out of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It might have been better to have left it with the lights going down on a conniving Pope thinking about what he'd done, although perhaps not very hard. Harping on the last quarter is, however, a disservice to the rollicking balance of this piece which has delighted audiences and reviewers alike. RED NOSES plays at The Gene Bua acting school in an unprepossessing area of Burbank. Theatre Banshee had a hit on its hands last year with Conor Macpherson's THE WEIR and RED NOSES is on its way to matching that oft-extended run. Assuming, of course, that such a large and gifted cast can be kept together.

GoingsOn, reviewed by Ravi

Flawless Acting, Lots of Humor

BURBANK — What did people do in the midst of imminent death from the Black Plague in the mid-1300s?

In the play, "Red Noses," Peter Barnes depicts derelict behavior in the masses, but straight as an arrow are most of the clergy. Then Father Flote (Andrew Leman) comes along. He cannot bear the misery of the dying around him and decides that becoming a clown will cheer the ill-fated in their last minutes on Earth.

Theatre Banshee of Glendale, performing at the Gene Bua Theatre in Burbank, gives us 20 actors in numerous situations, some quite bawdy, but all made humorous by some hilarious one-liners. The actors all seemed flawless, undoubtedly due to the marvelous direction by Sean Branney, and heavy experience in their field by many of the actors.

The costuming by Laura Brady got its desired effect. I drew away from the characters as they came down the steps next to me (dirty and disease-ridden, you know!). Andra Carlson's makeup was realistic, with plague sores galore. How the characters could dance is most admirable, and the choreographer, Jennifer Li Aldridge, has us toe-tapping along.

The music by David O is excellent, and the songs most enjoyable, with solos by Jennifer Taub as Marguerite a highlight, as is her polished performance.

Of special enjoyment are the antics and dancing of the "brothers" Boutros, One and Two, played by David Pavao and Jason McCune.

Special dislike of a character comes when the "Pope" makes his appearances, well played by Matt Foyer.

The whole cast played their parts well, but the audience became restless as the play lasted several minutes longer than necessary. Patrons are advised to bring a sweater, as the air conditioning works very well.

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