It starts with a snicker and a chuckle. Then comes a few snorts and a guffaw. More chuckles, leading to moans and groans. And suddenly the audience finds itself busting out in belly laughs…. That’s how Peter Shaffer’s 1965 romantic farce Black Comedy affects audiences as the absurdity picks up steam and careens down a merry, precipitous path. The playwright described the opening night at England’s National Theatre as “a veritable detonation of human glee.” That’s an accurate depiction, equally accurate in its current production at Theatre Arlington, running through July 31 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2pm.
Many people associate playwright Peter Shaffer with his intense, gut-wrenching drama Equus or his philosophically deep Royal Hunt of the Sun and Amadeus, all successfully adapted for award-winning film. A versatile writer, Shaffer blesses his audience with such easy laughter in Black Comedy, it’s almost hard to imagine him writing serious drama.
Shaffer hooks his audience immediately by having fuses blow out, ruining a very important evening for the play’s main character. The premise unfolds as the lights “go out” onstage for the actors, switching “on” for the audience observing the resultant chaos. What the audience watches becomes a fine exercise for the acting ensemble who play as if “in the dark”. Pratfall, miscommunication and several unanticipated “arrivals” and mistaken identities double down to give the audience a perfect dose of farce in extremis. Directed handily by regional professional and Theatre Arlington Board member Sharon Kaye Miller, the balanced ensemble of eight actors never loses momentum or “forgets the dark” as the plot thickens and mayhem ensues. Longtime professional actors Jakie Cabe and Hannah Bell anchor the cast with fine physical performances as an overbearing prospective father-in-law/ex-military tyrant and nosy, tee-totalling, gossipy neighbor mistakenly imbibing a great deal of booze and “coming alive” in unexpected ways. Micah J. Brooks earns the audience’s genuine sympathy as his leading man Brindsley struggles mightily to salvage an evening sinking like the Titanic. Dueling girlfriends/ fiancees Jenna Anderson and Alli Franken make Brindsley’s life a total nightmare of close encounters of the most unfortunate kind. Micah Green, playing Brindsley’s flamboyant and outraged neighbor Harold, reveals secret desires and earns the biggest laughs of the evening with impeccable comic delivery. Andrew Nicolas as the electrician with a strange voracious penchant for sculpture and Kelley Garland as a deaf, effete art collector add the last straw to the crescendo of hilarity. They bring the whipped cream and cherry to top the Black Comedy fruity flambe. Laugh until your mouth aches! It’s delicious fare with no calories. theatrearlington.org