Screen Plays' Black Comedy De-Lights
The review below was written by Dan and Julie Izzo
"Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness." - photographer Yousof Karsh
Peter Shaffer's farce Black Comedy delights based on one absurd premise. What if we could see what goes on in the obscurity of darkness? From this thought, he literally flips the light switch. The play begins in darkness with a young sculptor Brindsley Miller nervously preparing for a life changing meeting with elderly millionaire art collector George Bamberger. To impress Bamberger, he and his fiancée, Carol Melkett temporarily purloin the furniture and artwork of his flamboyant neighbor Harold Gorringe. While questioning the ethics of this nefarious decision with his fiancée, the apartment building's main fuse blows and the stage is bathed in light. It becomes clear that the motor of the play is that the audience sees when the actors don't. This topsy-turvy conveyance heightens the slapstick humor and illuminates the frenzied panic induced by unethical contrivances gone awry. Adding to this madness are love triangles, jealousy and repressed feelings.
Shaffer fuels the conflict by using stock British characters such as the demanding military Colonel and his plucky debutante daughter, the fussy antique dealer, the free spirited ingénue, and the uptight tea totaling neighbor all interacting with the caddish, social climbing artist, Brindsley. The character of Brindsley, however is deeper. His moral conflict revolves around the deceit he perpetrates on the three characters who love him. This theatrical setup presents the actors with immense challenges. Imagine how hard it is to believably play that you are in darkness when there is full light on stage. Also, because the characters are stereotypical, the actors must create specific details and underlying reality to avoid becoming clichéd. These are but two of the myriad difficulties faced by the director and actors in this madcap romp, but the potential reward from taking on these theatrical risks is a truly hilarious, laugh-a-minute farce.
The young cast of Screen Plays production did a credible job conveying the humor in Shaffer's work. Their energy and enthusiastic hijinx moved the audience from surprise to laughter. Carol, played by Katie Keating, was believable as the shallow, pushy debutante. Tea totaling Miss Furnival had some funny moments as she went from being straight-laced and anxious to fully intoxicated. Joey Chacon's electrician with the soul of an artist was heart felt and sincere. Alexus Maxam's Clea was specific and strong and created a reality in the complicated relationship with Brindsley. MJ Savastano as Brindsley brought a naturalness to the part but in pursuing the objective of hiding the truth, panic and desperation should have been infused into every detail of the performance. We missed the mania typically seen in British farces. Think of John Cleese in Fawlty Towers here. By comparison, Savastano's portrayal may have been too subtle. Likewise Harold, played by Derek Schneider, lacked the outrageousness so necessary to frenzy the plot.
But the humor in Peter Shaffer's play still worked. All in all, Screen Plays' production provided an enjoyable evening of theater. The audience was delighted. One patron seated directly behind us quipped, "This was the funniest play I've ever seen." Though the mayhem presented was not uproarious, Shaffer's comic mastery was. Mario Savastano's directoral hand was experienced and capable and the technical aspects of the production were seamless. Kudos to the cast and crew for undertaking and producing such a daring theatrical challenge!
Black Comedy is playing at the Multi Use Community Cultural Center (MuCCC) until May 26th. For tickets and more information, click here,