The Brits love broad, bawdy humor, especially on their telly: Monty Python, Benny Hill, Blackadder all made their way across the pond and into the hearts (or the gall bladders) of comedy starved, public television loving Americans. Theatre On Fire experienced wild success staging Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s BLACKADDER (Season 2) a while back and fans have been clamoring for more ever since. So in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Season 4 (which ended the franchise), TOF is presenting that very season of BLACKADDER GOES FORTH LIVE! (@ Charlestown Working Theatre through May 11th).
You may recall Season 2 had Blackadder fending off Elizabethan foes. He’s aged a bit for Season 4, which advances a mere three hundred years. Now Blackadder is fending off Germans and trying to keep from getting killed on the battlefield. The same absurd characters cross the boundaries of time to confound and obstruct Blackadder at every turn. Happily, (most of) the same actors director Darren Evans herded together for the previous production are back in the TOF fold for this incarnation.
The comedy is lame, demented, sophomoric slapstick. You just give yourself over to it and surrender. You won’t stop laughing for a minute and laughter is indeed the best medicine. I dare say that all your internal organs will be refreshed by the endorphins, not just your brain. Who could resist an aerial dogfight performed with go-cart scale planes attached to pilots like hoop skirts, swooping and diving about the stage. (I’m giggling just writing about it.)
Curtis and Elton get to interject some cautionary lessons about colonialism and war into this season along with the belly laughs. The lieutenant thinks they’ll do a little fighting, then it’s “home in time for tea and medals.” Captain Blackadder knows better about the military mindset: “[They’ve] gone to too much trouble to not have a war,” he says wistfully. Director Evans mines every chortle there is in the material but he can turn the tone of the piece on a dime to change the mood, not an easy task when we’re waiting for a cheeky punch line.
TOF splits the entire final season of BLACKADDER into two parts, three episodes in each which means two different nights to choose from. You can see both in any order or just one without any order at all. In fact, BLACKADDER elevates disorder to new heights. It’s a wonder the Allies won the war, given all the confusion behind enemy lines.
Craig Houk is simply beyond reproach as Blackadder. Once you’ve seen him, you will forget Rowan Atkinson entirely. (You can conjure Atkinson up in lots of other movies. It’s not a hardship.) When you see Christopher Sherwood Davis (as the naïve lieutenant) widen those eyes in authentic British astonishment, you just can’t wait for him to be awestruck again. Chris Wagner, thank heavens, returns as the ever so dim, non-hygienic “breath monster” whose chief raison d’être is to get in everyone’s way.
John Geoffrion’s Captain Darling is so wonderfully “stiff upper lip” that I suspect he’s either British or he has served in the RAF. Jason Beals repeats his spectacular entrance from season 2 (which I can’t give away but I can guarantee you’ll be wowed). Michael Steven Costello blusters his way through the war as a wacky, deluded general and Terrence P. Haddad provides a surfeit of maniacal German sneer as Baron von Richthoven. Terry Torres may or may not be a spy and Chelsea Schmidt may or may not be a nurse.
Production values are sky high in TOF’s BLACKADDER with spiffy military costumes from Eric Propp, nifty trench/tent/HQ sets from Luke J. Sutherland, evocative battlefront lighting from Eric Jacobsen and fabulous wearable planes by John J. King. I think they may catch on. Project Runway, look out!