Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer is the sort of play Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) does best. It’s fun, fast paced and the action takes place in one setting. After what seemed to me to be a bit of a rocky start this season TRP should have a hit on their hands with this delightful farce. The play is set in the apartment of Brindsley Miller a struggling sculptor who, along with his Fiance Carol is preparing to Host a Millionaire who is interested in his work and Carol’s father who’s blessing he must win in order to marry Carol. In an attempt to impress the two important men they have borrowed an away neighbors antique furniture without his consent. Just as they are about finished setting the stage a fuse blows in the building and plunges the entire evening into darkness. Almost the entire rest of the play takes place in an apartment where all the lights have gone out.
Are you having trouble picturing it? I almost hate to spoil the clever conceit of the play, but it’s stated in the program and becomes apparent from the very beginning. As the play opens the stage is in darkness, we hear the actors discuss the evening and set up all of the details which will drive the the plot forward. Brindsley played with manic exasperation by Josh Carson, frets over the furniture they have borrowed as the neighbor who is away until the next day is very protective of it and would never consent to it being used. He also expresses his insecurity of meeting Carol’s father, an Army Colonel, whom he’s sure will not approve of him. Carol played by Kaitlin Klemencic questions Brindsley about the photo of a girl she has found in his nightstand drawer. He claims she is an ex-girlfriend from two years ago. If you are familiar with farce, you can anticipate that these details will come into play as the evening progresses. Suddenly the lights flicker and then come fully on. We can see the actors clearly for the first time, but the characters have been plunged into complete darkness. It’s a brilliant technique that lends itself to endless comic possabilities. We are able to see that no one is looking in the right place, we see the near misses of characters and can see the falls and spills they take. The Lighting design by A. Camille Holthaus plays a key role. When a lighter is lit or a match struck the lights fade accordingly, the more light they have the less we the audience have. The timing is perfect for the light queues which were put to the test when one actor keeps lighting matches while another blows them out.
You can imagine the possibilities and I wont spoil the fun or the surprises that the play holds. I will say that as with all great farce just as the characters think they have one situation handled a new hurdle is thrown in front of them. The cast is uniformly great and Carson is a standout, he’s great with the physical humor, taking several fairly large pratfalls. But is also perfect at reacting to each new catastrophe and showing us his ability to deal with each one. I did feel he started slightly too high on the manic scale at the beginning, he could have benefitted from having further to go energywise from beginning to end, but he’s so successful anyway that it’s hard to find fault with it. It’s hard to comment on many of the actors without possibly revealing incidents in the play that are more fun to experience than read about. So I’m just going to list the entire cast and assure you they are all perfect in their roles. Josh Carson, Kaitlin Klemencic, Alison Anderson, Don Maloney, Matt Saxe, Kendra Alaura, H. William Kirsch, and Don Larsson. The direction by Brian P. Joyce is spot on, timing is everything with farce. If the chaos isn’t perfectly timed, it results in real chaos rather than comedy.
Black Comedy plays through February 2nd at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis for more information on the play and to purchase tickets visit http://www.theatreintheround.org/new-homepage/on-stage/black/ . I highly recommend this show.