- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2001

NEW YORK — Edward Hibbert has a lot of things on his mind these days, but the most pressing seem to be a platter of small fish and how quickly his pants fall down.
The actor, best known as the fussy restaurant critic Gil Chesterton on NBC's "Frasier," has been concentrating furiously on both these things in preparation for a Broadway revival of the British farce "Noises Off."
"I thank God that my concerns and I'm not trying to be flip here now my concerns right now are trousers and sardines," he says. "I thank God I've got a set of worries which have to do with my work right now and keep my mind off the real horrors of the world."
Mr. Hibbert plays Frederick Fellowes, a stage actor with a second-rate touring company that desperately tries to put aside its internal squabbles to perform a ludicrous farce called "Nothing On" in the hinterlands of England.
"I was once told the old-age cliche that, 'Once you can play Shakespeare, you can play anything.' Well, nothing against Shakespearean actors but comedy separates the men from the boys."

The play, written by Michael Frayn of "Copenhagen" fame, also stars Patti LuPone, Peter Gallagher, Faith Prince and Richard Easton. "Noises Off" is a farce within a farce, escalating in ridiculousness as backstage shenanigans tumble out into the performance.
The forgetful older actor is drunk. The leading lady continually forgets her plate of sardines. The director is pursuing simultaneous affairs with both the underwear-clad ingenue and the stage manager, one of whom is secretly pregnant.
In the first of three acts, we see the opening-night rehearsal, with forgotten lines, missed entrances and general confusion. We watch the second act from backstage as the actors improvise through jealousies and pranks.
The final act is the last, abysmal performance. Whatever can go wrong does go wrong: Cues are missed, doors are slammed, someone's shoelaces are tied together, and contact lenses are lost.
"It's a huff-huff show," says Mr. Hibbert, dining on a plate of tuna two hours before a recent performance. "I thought, 'I won't renew my gym membership now. I don't think I need it anymore.'"
Mr. Hibbert, 45, hopes a little farce offers a respite from the anxiety and trauma suffered in New York.
"I call us the penicillin of Broadway right now," he says. "To hear the volcanic laughter that we've been hearing over the last week, I feel that we're doing a sort of national service.
"We began rehearsals on the 10th of September. It seemed impossible to work on the 11th. It seemed impossible to work on the 12th. Then slowly, we all realized that thank God we were doing 'Noises Off.' I wonder how the cast of 'Dance of Death' felt going out there."
Mr. Hibbert, who was born in New York City, raised in England and insists he's "not just another green-card-holding English actor," watched the city's theater district empty out after the September 11 attacks.
Now he's grateful for the crush of people. "I want to hug every one of those people I see with a Playbill in their hands. I know New Yorkers are indomitable, but they're coming in from the 'burbs, and the little old ladies are coming in for the matinees," he says. "It's incredible, even stirring."

Some of the show's biggest laughs come at the expense of Mr. Hibbert's character, who must waddle about with his trousers around his ankles. Jeremy Sams, the show's director, spent hours watching Mr. Hibbert carefully practice dropping them on cue.
"The reason Edward is so good at these things is because he's such a serious man. He just thinks about things, and you can see it. Like all the best actors, you can see his thoughts scutting across his face like the shadows of clouds across a landscape," Mr. Sams says.
"An actor who can do small things big is what I long for working onstage. Most TV actors can do small things small, and you miss them. Or some theater actors can do big things big. But to be able to do small work which 2,000 people can understand is fantastic."

That skill has allowed Mr. Hibbert to join such diverse productions as "Hamlet," "My Night With Reg" and "Lend Me a Tenor," among others.
One of his proudest roles was following a portrayal of Oscar Wilde in an off-Broadway production of "Gross Indecency" with a juicy role in Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" Mr. Hibbert donned a pearl choker and a wig to play Lady Bracknell, one of theater's grandest dames.
"It made my day when people would say, 'The lady playing Lady Bracknell has a really loud speaking voice.' I thought, 'Well, good. The immaculate deception has really paid off,'" Mr. Hibbert says.
Besides "Frasier," Mr. Hibbert has made guest appearances on "Caroline in the City," "Mad About You" and "Columbo." He has appeared in such movies as "Everyone Says I Love You," "The First Wives Club" and "The Paper."


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