BWW Reviews: A Bit in the Dark in Happy Medium Theatre's BLACK COMEDY
Happy Medium's production of Black Comedy started in the dark. A full five minutes of dialogue and action, but no one could see it. What started as a few bewildered chuckles soon turned to complete confusion as the play continued minute after minute on without light. And then suddenly, the stage burst into illumination, blinding the audience and seemingly the cast as well, until the actors began to speak and grope about as if they now were the ones in the dark.
Sir Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy is a classic example of British farce, with abundant physical humor, extreme politeness, mistaken identities, and hidden passions. This particular farce has an additional element: when the lights are on in the theatre, it is believed that the apartment in the world of the play is doused in blackness, and vice versa. The story concerns a sculptor who aims to impress his fiance's father and a potential buyer by borrowing his neighbor's fancy furniture; however, all his plans go awry when a fuse is blown and the entire building is plunged into darkness. Shaffer's hilarious concept allows the audience to see what everyone in the play cannot, and classical British hijinks ensue.
The play is brilliant, but, despite their noble attempt, I'm not sure Happy Medium had the resources to put it on quite as Shaffer would have dreamt. My biggest issue with the production was in the apparent age-blind casting. As is the case with many older British plays, the story is full of senior characters: bumbling old men, a drunken elderly neighbor, and an ancient millionaire. However, no one in this production could have been substantially over thirty years old, and were aged by clearly applied make up and dress. For example, the millionaire, who walked with a cane and was "stone cold deaf", was played by a good looking 24 year old man, heavily laden with false facial hair and drawn on wrinkles, but youthful nonetheless. The inappropriate casting has nothing to do with these actors' talent, of course, but the clear age differences distanced me from the story.
I also had some issue with the presentation of farce, which, as a genre, walks a fine line between an acceptable absurdity, and a completely over-the-top exaggeration. For the most part, this production did well, and there were some absolutely brilliant moments (Mike Budwey, as the uptight father, had priceless reactions to bizarre sounds and touching), but there were definitely times that dipped past the absurd into the attention seeking, with unrealistic, almost eye roll inducing emotions. That being said, the leading man, Brooks Reeves, seems to have been born to act in British farces. His comedic timing, his extreme physicality, and his complete understanding of British humor were all so clear and he was absolutely perfect for this show and this role. He was brilliant.
Additionally, as a side note, having spent so much time in London, I, unfortunately, am particularly attune to accents. And really, the only passible one was that of Reeves, who I could have sworn actually hailed from the United Kingdom. But that is just a particular pet peeve.
That all being said, I do mean what I said earlier about it being a noble attempt. This production worked with what it had and did so to the absolute best of its ability. The space is small, which makes moving large pieces of furniture in the "dark" and reacting to things you "cannot see" incredibly difficult, but it was choreographed to the tee. The cast was committed and energetic, and clearly worked very hard to ignore their sensation of sight, focusing hugely on touch and sound, even with their eyes wide open. I commend them for their dedication, and did find myself laughing out loud here and there. It was probably just a tad too ambitious for the resources they had.
Directed by Lizette M. Morris and Michael Underhill; Stage Managed and Sound Designed by Deirdre Benson; Set Design by J.A. Curcione; Costume Design by Erica Desautels; Lighting Design by Greg Jutkiewicz; Properties Design by Coriana Hunt Swartz; Properties Assisted by Risa Uchida Battis; Dialects Coached by Caroline Price; Production Managed by Kiki Samko
CAST (in order of appearance): Brooks Reeves, Louise Hamill, Audrey Lynn Sylvia, Mike Budway, Mikey Diloreto, Alyssa Osiecki, Tim Fairley, Michael Underhill