Building a play on a central gimmick can either work wonders or completely derail a show. "Black Comedy" has a gimmick that has to be bought into or everything else will fall apart. It's a gutsy proposition and "Black Comedy" pulls it off with aplomb.
Brindsley Miller is a young sculptor who, along with his fiancee Carol, have "borrowed" some antiques from his neighbor's flat to spruce up his dilapidated apartment. They have done this for two reasons: 1) Carol's strict military father is coming over to meet Miller for the first time and 2) a very rich collector is coming over to possibly purchase some of Miller's artwork. Alas, there is a problem! A fuse in the cellar bursts and causes a blackout through the entire building.
Here is where the gimmick kicks in. The entire play is built around a reverse lighting scheme. So, when the play begins and everyone has power, the stage is in complete darkness. When the fuse blows only a few short minutes into the production, the lights come up and the audience is able to see all the shenanigans afoot.
During the blackout, Miller's neighbor (of the aforementioned borrowed antiques) comes home early, a teetotaling spinster with a fear of the dark stumbles in, Carol's angry father arrives and Miller's not-so-quite-ex girlfriend decides to drop by. These characters, combined with a German electrician and the Godot-like art collector, make for a play filled with colorful characters that are a joy to watch.
Although everyone acquits themselves nicely, Kelley Ryan steals the show as Carol with a perfectly calibrated performance as a slightly ditzy debutante with a flair for the dramatic. Will Futterman once again brings his consistently excellent deadpan to the role of Harold, the mildly robbed neighbor. Watching Harold slowly become more upset and embroiled in a losing situation is a blast to behold.
Once Harold arrives, Miller realizes he must use the blackout to his advantage and take the borrowed antiques back to Harold's apartment. Josh Carrell as Miller nails the physical comedy in the breakout scene of the show. All the characters are stumbling across the bright stage as if they are in the dark, while Carrell crawls, ducks, dives and dodges his way around, carting one set piece off at a time in almost perfect silence. It's a barn burner of a scene that's worth the price of admission alone.
Director Ron McCracken gave the actors an exercise during the rehearsal process that paid off immensely. He had everyone do the show as they would normally, but with blindfolds on. This allowed the actors to slow their movements and preserve the illusion that everyone on stage is wandering in the dark. It's such a slight thing to notice, but the actors do truly act and use their eyes like sighted people in a dark room, not like actual blind people. It helps sell the gimmick right away.
"Black Comedy" was first performed in 1965, so some of the gender roles and behavior is most definitely dated, but never with a detrimental effect. The script smartly challenges binary stereotypes and actually seems downright progressive by the curtain. The play exists simply as a joke delivery machine balanced with broad physical comedy and farcical flair. Simply, it's a fun night of theater designed to put a smile on the face and some lightness in the heart. At that, it succeeds admirably.
Friday, June 10 to Saturday, June 25
7:30 p.m., matinees 2 p.m.
Cascades Theatrical Company,
148 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend