The Ploy's The Thing

By Jana Rivera

IF THE NAME of Peter Schaffer's play, Black Comedy, now presented by Live Theatre Workshop, sends you running for the theatre to see some caustic, politically-incorrect dark humor, hold up a minute. Although the title of Schaffer's play pulls you in witha promise of sarcasm and acrimony, there's nothing quite so brazen going on here.

Schaffer's title refers not to the humor of the play, but to the fact the whole show is performed in the dark. No, not actually in the dark, that would become tedious quickly. Let me explain. Within the first five minutes of the play, the audience is set up to understand that when the stage lights are up, the characters on stage are in a pitch-black apartment due to a power failure. When the stage lights are down, the power has been restored or someone has found a flashlight.

Clever, huh? Yes, for a moment. Unfortunately, Schaffer obviously believes this little ploy is clever enough carry an entire 90-minute play. I'll admit eight characters milling about an apartment in total darkness, coming and going without detection, and running into stolen furniture (the ignorant victim of the furniture heist being one of the eight), can create some laughs. Numerous laughs, even.

But this Schaffer play, unlike some of his others, stakes its entire potency on physical humor. In his 1987 play Lettice and Lovage, produced last year by Invisible Theatre, Schaffer winds some clever dialogue around a relationship burgeoning between two lonely women. In Black Comedy, there are no such relationships developing, and in fact, there's not even witty dialogue. Instead, there are lamps knocked to the floor and knees bumped on unseen tables.

The characters--a poor artist attempting to impress both his future father-in-law and a wealthy art dealer, plus the artist's fiancée, his girlfriend, and two neighbors--all seem contrived simply to carry out the play's physical requirements. None of the relationships develop and none of them matter.

The artist and his fiancee "borrow" a vacationing neighbor's furniture to impress "daddy" the same evening they expect a visit from a wealthy art dealer. But shortly before the father-in-law arrives, the lights go out. Then, of course, the neighbor returns home early and another neighbor who's afraid of the dark drops in (why, I don't know), as does the former/present girlfriend, although no one knows it because it's dark. The electrical repairman is mistaken for the art dealer, and the art dealer is mistaken for the repairman.

Does this sound familiar? Take out any four characters and drop in any four others and you've got any tiresome British farce. Mistaken identities and misinterpretations abound, while the main character remains helpless to stifle the flow of his secrets, and he frantically unravels.

But if tiresome British farces leave you clutching your sides with laughter, Live Theatre Workshop's actors make this one worth seeing. They do a superb job. Kevin Teed's role of the starving artist, Brinsley, demands some not-so-graceful trips up and down the stairs and over and under tables. In fact, under Michael Givens' direction, Teed carries most of the action for the entire 90 minutes. Teed delivers some great stunts and many of the laughs.

Nell Summers also provides some chuckles with her perky 1960s performance of Carol, the fiancée. She's too cute with that beehive-flower hairdo and those go-go boots.

Jarrod Antinoro and Vince Lucarini, who play the father-in-law and the neighbor, both give excellent performances despite their shallowly written characters. Hilary Pursehouse plays the useless neighbor with gusto, at times a little too much gusto, but in this play it didn't matter.

Live Theatre Workshop's production of Black Comedy continues with performances on January 26 at 8 p.m. and January 27 and 28 at 2 and 8 p.m. at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts, 408 S. 6th Ave. Admission is $5 at the door. For more information call 327-4242. TW

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