Please could you stop the noise

by Marina Agerter

“There’s something unnatural about all of our dependence on these machines,” remarks one of the characters in Alarms and Excursions, a performance from Purple Crayon Productions playing at the Bryant-Lake Bowl through August 25. The play’s four performers present five sketches that explore the impact of noise and confusion in today’s technology-driven society. From cell phones to smoke alarms to answering machines to remote controls, none of the characters can get a moment’s peace. The play depicts our culture as passive and apathetic, a place where no one really listens to or cares what anyone else has to say. “Alarms and Excursions” allows us to take a comic glimpse at ourselves as we stand ready to become slaves to our electronic culture.

If you decide to see the show, you should first know that the “bowl” part of the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theatre’s name is a bit misleading. Besides a bowling alley and restaurant/bar, there’s a small auditorium with creeky wood floors and and a small stage. The result is an intimate setting, complete with candles on the table and a waitress in cowboy attire to bring you drinks during the show. Close quarters make the four actors on stage appear to be in your face throughout the entire performance, but after adjusting to the proximity, the energy of the performers becomes very invigorating.

The opening sketch begins in the home of a couple who are entertaining friends. Their conversation is constantly being interrupted by a “ching!” noise of unknown origin. Shortly after the pandemonium begins. The phone rings, the oven timer beeps, and the characters begin running frantically in and out of doors, trying to stop the various noises. This sketch sets a frantic pace and leaves the audience virtually out of breath.

The second sketch slows down a bit, taking place on an airplane with only one of the passengers actually listening to the ridiculous spiel being given over the intercom. Instead of giving the typical safety demonstration, the stewardesses are actually engaging in a strip tease, but the other passengers don’t even notice this stage plane-porno.

The third sketch follows two almost-identical couples on their vacations. When one character accidentally lands on the remote control during the middle of the night another screaming, chaotic panic ensues, very similar to the ending of the first sketch.

The fourth sketch takes place at a party where the background noise is so loud, the man and woman speaking cannot hear a word the other is saying. Of course, misunderstanding results in which the man thinks he’s taking the woman home until her husband reappears. The fifth and final sketch brings the play full-circle, showing the two couples from the first sketch still together during the wee hours of the morning, obviously exhausted by the frantic pace of the evening and of their lives.

Though the entire play is only a bit over an hour, some of the sketches seemed to run too long and did not completely blend together.

The actors are engaging and possessed accurate comic timing, with the exception of Mark Miller, who seems to play the same over-the-top character in each sketch. Watching him is like watching a mix of Gilbert Godfrey, French Stewart, and Daffy Duck (use your imagination). The frantic sketches give Alarms and Excursions an exhausting pace, making clear the constant buzz that technology has in modern life.