By Peter Shaffer
Directed by P. Marston Sullivan
Produced Piccolo Theatre
At the Evanston Art’s Depot
Very funny relationship British Farce works with lights up or down
“The Lights are out and everyone is home!”
Piccolo Theatre, under the tight direction of P. Marston Sullivan, sure loves to make audiences laugh and their latest production features six short comedy sketches plus a quite funny one act – Black Comedy.
Peter Shaffer, the author of Equus and Amadeus, pens a clever little farce, Black Comedy. What makes this by-the-numbers farce work, i.e. produce laughs is the thin premise—the house fuse burns out leaving place in darkness. The show opens to a darkened stage as two people talk and move about as if the lights were functioning. Then when the women turns on the record player—boom!—the lights go out—and in a clever twist, the stage lights come on—so we see when the character’s can’t. Thereafter, when the players strike a match or don a flashlight, the stage goes 80% dark—after several amusing conditioning scenes—we buy into the gimmick.
Black Comedy takes more than an hour to tell its standard-issue story of a young artist who has invited a rich collector to his flat to view his work on the very same night that his hoity-toity fiancé plans to introduce him to her fussbudget-y conservative father. Complications ensue: Brindsley (Adam Kander), the young man, has “borrowed” furniture and art objects from his antique dealer neighbor Harold (Brian Kilborn), in hopes of impressing the collector; naturally Harold turns up unexpectedly. So does Clea (Stephanie Sullivan), Brindsley’s former girlfriend, who flits around the dark apartment wreaking rather gratuitous havoc on her ex’s already catastrophic evening.
This show is standard, formula British drawing room farce first produced in London in 1965. The comedy is based on us seeing and the actors being literally in the dark—never mind the fact that, given time, the eyes adjust to the blackest darkness. Once everyone can’t see, it is up to the poor fellow (Brindsley) to keep everything together—not an easy task when neighbors arrive to blow his cover and an old flame shows up to cause trouble.
This silly farce works due to the fearless physicality of the actors. They marvelously move about like anyone would in pitch darkness—they trip over furniture, bump into one another and they don’t react to actions around they because they don’t ‘see’ what’s happening. We only ‘buy into’ a farce if we like and empathize with the lead character. The cast uniformly exhibited excellent English accents.
Adam Kander has enough charm and likableness that gets us to cheer for him. Kander bravely gives up his body with several falls, slaps and bumps—he must be black-and-blue from his spills. Kelli Walker’s Miss Furnival was a hoot with her high-brow English accent, old-maid persona and her drunken bits were precious. Andrew Pond, as the Colonel, was the consummate straight man Brian Kilborn was hilarious as the obnoxious gay neighbor antique dealer. Liz Larsen-Silva was a hoot as the fickle Brindsley’s fiancé.
Physical comedy is about timing and a willingness to take a hit or a fall—these actors bravely left it all on the stage. I laughed plenty as I admired the skill of each— staging by director Sullivan on Nick Rastenis’ effective scenic design add to the laughs.
British farces either produce laughter or they are boring silliness—Black Comedy works on all levels—it’s funny and entertaining. The entire cast leaves it all on the sage just to make us laugh. This show is fun!
At the Evanston Art Depot, 600 main Street, Evanston, IL, call 847-424-0089, tickets $25, Friday & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour, 50 minutes with intermission.