No Rules Theatre Company gets off to a fantastic start at its new location at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, with Peter Shaffer’s hysterical Black Comedy.
This classic British farce by Shaffer (Equus, Amadeus), which debuted in 1965, has a terrific set-up that is a refreshingly different take on the concept of “black comedy.” The play starts off in pitch black darkness while we hear the action on the stage involving artist, Brindsley Miller (brilliantly played by Jerzy Gwiazdowski) and his girlfriend Carol Melkett (a very funny Kathryn Saffell). When a fuse is blown in Brindsley’s building, a blackout occurs in the play action while the audience conversely can now see all the action on stage. A number of visitors join the action during the course of the blackout resulting in hilarious calamity and misunderstandings typical of a fine British comedy. Our ability to watch the actors fumble around in the dark lends itself to very entertaining physical comedy that is capably handled by the terrific No Rules ensemble and their excellent director, Matt Cowart.
All the actors do a great job. Gwiazdowski is stupendous as Brindsley, and gives one of the finest physical performances I have seen in a while. The sequence in which he tries to replace the furniture in his flat while entertaining guests will have you in stitches. Saffell is delightfully ditzy and droll as Carol. Brian Sutow demonstrates his superlative comic chops as Brindsley’s prissy neighbor, Harold Gorringe and is a real scene stealer in the show. I really enjoyed Lisa Hodsoll’s Miss Furnival, especially toward the end of the show, when her character really lets loose. Matthew R. Wilson does a convincing job as the rigid Colonel Melkett, Carol’s disapproving father Dorea Schmidt is a lot of fun to watch as Brindsley’s estranged lover, Clea. Finally, Ryan Mitchell does well as confused electrician, Schuppanzigh.
Equally important to making us believe the characters are struggling through the blackout is Travis McHale’s exceptional lighting. McHale helps us see light in the imaginary darkness each time a lighter is lit or a flashlight is shone, and the resuming darkness each time a light is extinguished, which no easy feat during the constant action. Timing on everyone’s part in this show is so essential and needs to be absolutely precise and Matt Cowart’s stellar direction is up to the task.
The two-story set representing Brindsley’s flat by John Bowhers is quite good and conveys well a struggling artist, desperate to be discovered. Brindsley’s artwork displayed in the flat is a bit simplistic, if not childish, but that arguably is intended for humor. The furniture and decorative items in the flat are well chosen and serve their important role in the story. The costumes by Chelsey Schuller are very effective at capturing the class level and idiosyncrasies of each of the characters.
Run and get tickets now for this fun-filled and outrageously funny Black Comedy – so you won’t be left out in the dark!
Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.
Black Comedy plays through March 2. 2013 at No Rules Theater Company at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 820-9771 or purchase them online.