Most farces, especially British faces, are essentially the same: frenetic energy, physical humor, and mistaken identity. There’s little you can change besides the names, sets, and costumes… right?
Peter Shaffer finds another way to spice up the genre with lighting. Or should I say without lighting?
When it comes to the characters in Shaffer’s Black Comedy, they are in dark when the stage is lit and vice versa. As the show starts, the lights go out and we hear the entire opening scene done in complete blackout. While it is funny to hear actors speak and move about without being able to see, it is more amazing to realize they are navigating a stage without any light. As someone that’s worked on stage before, it’s quite the task. After a “blown fuse” the lights finally go up, but the characters act as if the opposite has occurred. It results in a zany twist for No Rules Theatre’s first show at the Signature Theatre in Shirlington, where the company will reside for the next three years.
The result is a show packed with non-stop laughs that will have you rolling in the aisles by the night’s end.
The concept of being able to see when the actors can’t gives the audience a clairvoyant view at behaviors uncensored from social observation: an eye-roll at a snarky remark, scowls towards annoying speakers, furtive glances away from sources of anxiety. For the characters there’s no consequences for being brutally honest and open which leads to all the more entertaining experience for the audience that can see it all.
It all starts with Brindsley Miller (Jerzy Gwiazdowski), a starving artist who is preparing to show his art to a wealthy millionaire in his humble flat. He must also deal with his fiancee Carol’s (Kathryn Saffell) father Colonel Melkett (Matthew R. Wilson) who is also dropping by to meet his future son in law.With so many guests to impress, Brindsley and Carol “borrow” furniture from their neighbor Harold (Brian Sutow) to spruce up the dingy looking apartment. When Brindsley’s apartment building experiences a blackout all sorts of unexpected guests drop by including the neighboring Miss Furnival (Lisa Hodsoll), a bumbling electrician (Ryan Mitchell), and Brindsley ex-girlfriend/current mistress Clea (Dorea Schmidt).
Did you get all of that? Good. Then you are ready to see what happens when you throw all those people “in the dark.”
What makes this show nothing short of hilarious is the physical comedy. It starts with chuckles as the actors fumble around the room and mistakenly grope around other actors, and grows into full-on laughter as the characters lose all sense of direction, leading to some odd moments of characters yelling into body parts of other characters.
Shaffer creates an eclectic group of characters to mingle in the dark. Brindsley’s two lovers range from Carol who’s ditzy demeanor includes adding the suffix “poo” to most words to Clea who arrives late in the show but makes her mark with a snarky sense of humor and revenge. Miss Furnival, a baptist daughter, manages to steal moments as she quickly discovers alcohol. Harold, an effeminate antiques dealer who may or may not have feelings towards Brindsley himself creates an interesting love triangle for our protagonist. The ensemble put together by director Matt Cowart are perfect in delivering the laugh and demonstrate they are more than capable with keeping up with the high action demands of the show.
Despite the title, you won’t find much melodrama or moodiness with Black Comedy- just hilarity and mischief. Artistic Directors Sutow and Josh Morgan have made themselves at home at Signature Theatre from the looks of this first show, it will be a wonderful new addition to the NoVA Theatre scene.
No Rules Theatre’s production of Black Comedy performs through January 13th, at Signature Theatre located at 4200 Campbell Ave Arlington, VA 22206. Closest Metro stop: Pentagon City (Blue/Yellow lines). For more information call 336-462-9182.