Everything is happening in pitch darkness.
Black Comedy, which Strollers Theatre is presenting at the Bartell Theatre, has a pretty funny plot.
Peter Shaffer's one-act, first performed in 1965, centers on a young artist set to impress his future father-in-law and a possible patron. He does everything to make sure the night goes just right: borrowing the neighbor's antique furniture (without his permission, of course) and putting on a suit and tie.
Since this is, after all, a comedy, it's not surprising when things go completely wrong. From a pop-in visit from the other woman to a teetotaler neighbor, dignified Miss Furnival (Kathy Lynn Sliter), getting wasted, the night couldn't be more disastrous.
Oh, wait. It could. Everything is happening in pitch darkness -- there's been a building-wide blackout.
Sounds good, right?
Problem is: the plot is funny enough to fill 30 minutes, but this show runs 75 minutes, which is too long to be sustained by the storyline. The pace on opening night, especially at the start of the show, was a little slow. Since so much of Black Comedy relies solely on physical movement and antics related to a simple plot, the dialogue could have been sped up. A lot. Think Gilmore Girls at turbo speed.
Most of the physical humor falls onto the shoulders of Mikey Andersen. As Brindsley Miller, a young artist, Andersen offers some respectably funny moves, including an especially crowd-pleasing fall from the top of a small set of stairs. He plays Miller consistently -- none of the characters really change in Black Comedy -- as a starving artist with big dreams.
As Colonel Melkett, Tom Steer is too baby-faced to be convincing as a stern future-father-in-law and military man. Though dressed in a too-big suit, he barely seems older than his flaky debutant daughter Carol, (Danielle Bormann) who is taxingly perky and the only character who keeps the audience grounded in a particular time period. Decked out in a bright orange mini-dress, white fishnet stockings, a bouffant hair-do and dramatic cat-eye makeup, her look won't let us forget for one second that we're stuck in 1960s Britain.
But it's the other woman who steals the spotlight, so to speak. From the moment Jessica Jane Witham walked on stage as Clea, a small surge of energy filled the room. Witham's natural stage presence is undeniable. Sultry and pulsing with energy, Witham breathed some life into a show that had started to drag. As the woman on the side, Clea sneaks into Brindsley's dark apartment, unfazed by the darkness and the odd crowd. When she's discovered, she pretends to be Miller's cleaning lady -- resulting in an especially hilarious scene.
For a show with a name like Black Comedy, I expected more of an undercurrent of dark humor. Instead, the title seems more a hollow play on words. There's some metaphorical darkness, most of it at the end when things unravel, but it feels tacked on, as if to justify the title at the last minute.
Still, on a snowy opening night, the youngish audience appeared to have a rip-roaring time. They chortled and guffawed at every opportunity.
Me, I felt a little left in the dark.