The Happy Medium Theatre tackles high British farce with Peter Shaffer’s BLACK COMEDY, (playing through June 22nd) a frenetic free-for-all best described by one of the attendees at a party, (happily for us) ruined when all the lights go out: “Everything happens the wrong way round.”
Shaffer employs a brilliant conceit (which I’m not divulging) to heighten the comedy. Now, it’s extremely difficult to keep a farce airborne. You need highly skilled comedians to hold the suspension aloft. Luckily, Happy Medium has one of Boston’s best actors, Brooks Reeves, in the lead. He plays British like mother’s milk (perhaps it was) and he plays comedy with the physical humor and timing of a Peter Sellers. He simply widens his eyes in terror and we’re convulsed.
I saw BLACK COMEDY opening weekend, which may be what accounted for a lack of comic momentum toward the end of the play. Maybe we were just laughed out! Maybe the pace will improve from running it more. What made it sag a bit, for me, were some of the female voices that could shatter glass in the top range. If the voices had been pitched lower to begin with, they would have somewhere to go other than earsplitting when hysteria sets in.
Speaking of hysteria, Mikey DiLoreto has a meltdown worthy of Gene Wilder’s in THE PRODUCERS and there’s a lot to love (and laugh at) in directors Lizette Morris and Michael Underhill’s valiant effort. They give it a good go, as the Brits would say. They come mighty close to liftoff.
Every once in a while I see something repeated on stage which gets my hackles up (You’re rolling your eyes. Or maybe you’re sticking out your tongue.) and I might not be complaining, had this not popped up (or out) in the last four shows I saw. Four different companies (including Trinity Rep, can you believe?) resorted to junior high school antics to articulate the frustration of a character.
Four out of the five shows I saw last week… that is FOUR IN A ROW had characters who stuck out their tongue at other characters whose backs were turned. Does that really work in a sophisticated show like CHICAGO? Sticking out your tongue as a show of disdain is simply not a very imaginative choice in real life and it it’s even less imaginative on stage. Surely there is a better way.
Now I’m afraid it’s a trend. Oh, say it isn’t so.