BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre

Farce is a very difficult type of comedy to do well. It takes the ability of actors to present real characters in outrageously unreal situations so that we care about what happens to them. Just using over-the-top mannerisms and loud vocalizations does not accomplish this, and what you wind up seeing onstage are caricatures rather than real people who just get caught in outrageous situations beyond their control.

Such is the case with the two one acts now being presented at Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixson Theatre, The Still Alarm by George S. Kaufman and Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer. Director Paul Guay seems to have let his actors be in charge of the action, something that can be fatal to presenting a farce that works well for the audience. Thus the plays become a mockery of their characters, played just for laughs with as much posing and physical comedy as possible.

The Still Alarm by George S. Kaufman is presented first, a brief appetizer before intermission. The very basic set seems to represent a local, rundown motel room. However, the two actors who come in, Ed (Steve Weber) and Bob ( ) are British and let us know the hotel room is on the 11th floor of what must be a refined hotel. As soon as the two friends begin discussing the floor plan blueprint for an upcoming project, there is a knock at the door and a very droll bellhop (Rick Galiher, using his lanky body and rubbery face to great effect) comes in and alerts them the hotel is on fire and suggests they consider leaving the building. In the face of crackling flames, deadly heat, and imminent catastrophe, the guests, the bellboy, and the firemen (Josh Fingerhut and Daniel Koh) who are sent up to rescue them remain resolutely British, never giving in to alarm but rather choosing to play music and dance as the hotel burns around them. It stuck me as something similar to the movie Titanic with the musicians playing as the ship sank, keeping a stiff upper lip until the very end.

Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer begins with two actors speaking in total darkness. At first I wondered if the light booth staff was asleep until one of the actors cursed about blowing a fuse and the lights came up. Thus I realized when light illuminates the stage for the audience, the characters can't see anything as they are plunged into a world of darkness and must fumble around as if they cannot see anything, including each other..

Unfortunately, this happens on the night when desperate sculptor Brindsley Miller (Tristan Wright) has "borrowed" furniture and art from Harold Gorringe (Michael Silva), the absent collector next door to impress his fiancée Carol's (Angela Bray) intimidating father Colonel Melkett (Josh Fingerhut) and a wealthy art dealer, George Bamberger (Rick Galiher).. Over the course of the evening in darkness, the collector unexpectedly returns, only to be joined by a tipsy teetotaling spinster Miss Furnival (Susan Hardie), a horny ex-girlfriend Clea (Samantha Barrios), and a German electrician (David Narloch), Brindsley frantically tries to keep everyone in the dark long enough to return the stolen items before light is restored, illusions are shattered, and his lies are revealed.

Standouts in the cast are Samantha Barrios who portrays one of the most realistic of all the characters, allowing us to care about what happens to the girl he left behind, and Josh Fingerhut whose initial spouting Colonel has just the right amount of bravado to generate lots of laughs as he struggles to maintain his dignity amid disappearing chairs and things that go bump in the dark. Tristan Wright masterfully exerts himself with all the physical demands of the role, especially funny as he attempts to remove furniture without being detected by anyone else. Susan Hardie is a joy to watch in her understated ways of letting her character open up as the alcohol takes effect.

Since all the characters are supposed to be in total darkness unable to see each other, I had to wonder why Angela Bray felt the need to continually pose in the most over-the-top ways as if trying to sell products on television. David Narloch's German accent is so strong it was often difficult to understand what he was saying, but that certainly did not matter one bit during his incredibly funny erotic reaction to the piece of sculpture on display to impress the other visitors. His brief carrying on was a highlight of the show.

The Still Alarm by George S. Kaufman and Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer continue through May 24, 2015 on Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, CA 90405. General admission is $20, or $18 for seniors and students. Reserved seats available at www.morgan-wixson.org or phone 310-828-7519.

Photos by Joel Castro

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Michael Silva and Tristan Wright

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Michael Silva, Tristan Wright, Josh Fingerhut

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Angela Bray and Susan Hardie

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Rick Galiher

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Michael Silva and Josh Fingerhut

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Michael Silva, Samantha Barrios, Angela Bray, Tristan Wright

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
David Narloch

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Michael Silva and Susan Hardie

BWW Review: THE STILL ALARM and BLACK COMEDY Share the Stage at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre
Susan Hardie, Michael Silva, Josh Fingerhut as Miss Furnival, Harold Gorringe and Colonel Melkett in Black Comedy

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