Black Comedy

Springville Playhouse’s production of the gimmick-farce “Black Comedy” is a comical, fast-paced treat.

Would-be artist Brindsley (Brett Merritt) has several things happening all on the same night. His girlfriend Carol (Cyndi Ball) is bringing her military “monster father” (Blaine Sundrud) over, in the hopes of getting his permission for Brindsley and Carol to get married. Also coming over is renowned patron of the arts Georg Bamberger (James McGregor), whom Brindsley hopes will buy some of his art. And because Brindsley is poor and his apartment sparsely furnished, he has borrowed the tasteful decor of his out-of-town neighbor, Harold (Jake Suazo), in order to impress his future father-in-law and the art guy.

Naturally, Harold doesn’t stay out of town long enough, and Brindsley’s ex-girlfriend Clea (Rachel Kimsey), who isn’t totally aware she’s his EX-girlfriend, shows up, too.

Standard farce material so far. What gives “Black Comedy” its twist is that the first 10 minutes of the show take place with the stage in darkness. To the characters, however, everything is normal. Then there’s a power failure, and all the lights go out – meaning, in this backward stage gimmick, the stage lights come ON. Now we see the characters stumbling around in the “dark,” arriving and leaving without each other’s knowledge, and narrowly missing bumping into each other. Every time someone lights a match, or any other small source of light is introduced, the stage lights dim a little bit, and the characters can see. When the matches go out, or the flashlight is turned off, the lights come back to full brightness, and everyone is blind again.

It’s a clever idea, and playwright Peter Shaffer (who also wrote the somewhat more highbrow “Amadeus” and “Equus”) does everything he can with it. When the “he’s-gay-but-we’re-not-saying-so” Harold returns unexpectedly, Brindsley and Carol intentionally stall getting the lights back on so that Brindsley can silently sneak all of Harold’s furniture back to his apartment – right under his nose. And Brindsley’s discovery that Clea has returned is outrageously funny.

The cast, performing on a special preview night with a tiny audience, performed admirably. When the crowd is few in numbers, an actor’s tendency is to pull back: No sense in going whole-hog, making a fool of yourself, when the laughs are going to sound small either way. But Brett Merritt as Brindsley fell over as much furniture and behaved as frantically as required, and Cyndi Ball’s baby-talking debutante Carol was as shriekish and giddy as ever. The rest of the cast (which also includes David Nugent as a philosophizing electrician and Janel Crane as the prim and proper Mrs. Furnival) also performed with enthusiasm and aplomb, and generally with good comic timing.

This is a delightful one-act play, done very well by mostly college students. Seeing it on a special "preview" night was kind of weird, because there were only about 10 of us in the audience, and there were no programs. I'd say that was the most awkward thing, in fact: no programs. It's was kinda creepy, even.