Black Comedy turns the laughter machine way up high, and keeps it going.
Thursday, February 20, 2003
Photo: What''s A Guy To Do? Eric Petersen (center) tries to keep chaos at bay in Black Comedy.
If laughter is good medicine, anyone who goes to see Magic Circle Center''s production of Black Comedy will be inoculated against any number of diseases. Written by Peter Shaffer (Amadeus, Equus), Comedy is a snickerful bit of fluff that delighted last Sunday''s audience. On the other hand, audiences looking for something with deep meaning, dark truth or delicate insight will find none of these.
Written and first produced as a one-act play in the mid ''60s, Black Comedy is an airy farce that that takes place during one evening in the London apartment of Brindsley Miller (Erik Petersen), a struggling sculptor. As Miller and his fiancee Carol Melkett (Dawn Flood) await the arrival of millionaire/art connoisseur Georg Bannberger, the apartment''s electricity goes out. This power outage provides the play with its primary device: While the power to the apartment is off, the lights on stage blaze at full intensity, and when the power to the apartment is on (or when someone lights a flashlight, cigarette lighter, etc.) the onstage lights are dimmed. As a device, the lighting is more amusing (if a bit confusing) at the beginning of the play than it is as the play rolls on. And roll it does.
In the hands of director Peter Stauffer, Magic Circle''s production of Black Comedy flits nimbly from beginning to end, as Miller''s acquaintances and neighbors stumble (literally) into his apartment. Making up the strange crew that are thrown into the dark apartment are the primly middle-class Miss Furnival (Jennifer Forbes); Carol''s stern father Colonel Melkett (Robert Colter); the homosexual neighbor Harold Gorringe (Jay Hudson) and Miller''s not-so-former flame Clea. Rounding out the group, in smaller appearances, are Shuppanzigh (Peter Eberhardt), the electrical repair man and millionaire Georg Bannberger (Paul Sallabedra).
At play''s start, we find that Miller and Carol have "requisitioned" the tony furniture from neighbor Gorringe''s apartment in order to make a better impression on Bannberger, who is supposed to show up and (hopefully) purchase some of Miller''s sculpture. Gorringe''s unexpected return forces Miller to try to surreptitiously move the furniture back before Gorringe realizes it''s missing. The apartment''s darkness is both a blessing and a curse: Although Gorringe can''t see his wayward furniture, neither can Miller see his surroundings. The groping fumble-bumbling provides the play''s laughter.
Performances throughout are excellent, and it''s a testament to director Stauffer that every member of the cast manages to stare into the supposed darkness as they stumble about in the blackness, making the load of an audience''s disbelief easier to suspend. As a witty farce, the timing of lines is crucial to the success of this play, and here, too, Stauffer''s direction is nearly flawless. Less successful is the feeling that the play is building to a climax. The audience is hurried along with no building sense of urgency as it becomes ever more likely that the power will be returned to the building before all the furniture is replaced. Of course, this is largely the way in which the script is written: As each new person arrives, there are so many potential emergencies that it''s difficult to rate their importance.
As the central character in an ensemble performance, Erik Petersen offers a nicely flustered Brindsley Miller, trying to deal with the purloined furniture, a monster of a future-father-in-law and two girlfriends in the same room. Petersen''s frequently pained expressions and physical contortions give Miller a memorable personality. Dawn Flood''s performance as Miller''s twitty, twirping fiancee is also excellent as she crawls about the stage, trying to make excuses for Miller''s erratic behavior.
Robert Colter dissolves his appropriately ramrod-stiff Colonel Melkett into an equally appropriate confused father-in-law, Jay Hudson''s preening Harold Gorringe is a queenly bit of work, and Heather Griffin does a nice job as the scorned former girlfriend. Jennifer Forbes'' Miss Furnival is a delight-even when she has no lines, her body language and confused expressions make her performance notable.
As usual, Laura Cote''s scenic design is excellent, offering a multi-level, warm-hued set decorated with Miller''s garden-implement sculptures.
Although there''s little meat to the play, Magic Circle delivers a charming production. It''s the kind of production where it''s best to sit back, turn off one''s brain and roll with the onstage antics. Fortunately, the cast makes it easy to do so.
Black Comedy continues at Magic Circle through March 16. 659-1108.