Melkett (played by Robert Peterson) bristles at by Ruth Ranson) while neighbor Harold Gorringe (played by Bob Mabrey) and Melkett's daughter daughter, Carol (played by Linsey Krueger), stand nearby. The scene is from "Black Comedy," performed this weekend and next by the Kenai Performers.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
Usually the audience is in the dark while watching a play. In "Black Comedy," put on this weekend and next by the Kenai Performers, the actors join the onlookers in darkness or pretend to, anyway.
Struggling sculptor Brindsley Miller is about to get his big break when eccentric millionaire art collector George Bamberger takes an interest in his work. Miller and his fiancee, Carol Melkett, arrange a grand reception for him and Melkett's father, the formidable and disapproving Col. Melkett, at Miller's apartment/studio complete with "borrowed" fancy furnishings from the well-to-do vacationing neighbor across the hall.
For the first few minutes of the play, all seems to be going well with Miller's preparations or so the audience assumes, since the stage is dark. About five minutes into the show, the apartment building's main fuse blows and plunges Miller and Melkett into the dark which is actually the light, from the audience's perspective.
From there Miller, Melkett and the rest of the cast stumble around in simulated darkness. The audience can see them, but in the play the characters can't see their hands in front of their faces.
Brindsley Miller (played by Lucas Anderson) blunders in the dark toward his neighbors Miss Furnival (played by Terri Burdick) and Harold Gorringe (played by Bob Marley).
"I think it's a really challenging play for actors because they can never let the audience think they can see," said Ellee Ernst, director.
Complicating matters are the moments when a character lights a match or turns on a flashlight.
"Finding a balance between when they can see and not see is difficult and important," Ernst said.
The play, written by Peter Shaffer, is a farce loaded with physical humor and some over-the-top losses of temper and sanity, more "Three Stooges" than Woody Allen although Ernst said the play does have a Woody Allen-esque feel to it.
"I wanted to do a comedy and I looked at several and this one seemed a little bit different," Ernst said.
Once the lights go out, everything that can go wrong, does Col. Melkett is not impressed with his "dumpling's" fiance's lack of preparedness, the prim and proper Miss Furnival from upstairs goes on an accidental drinking binge, the wealthy vacationing Harold Gorringe comes home early to find suspicious furniture in Miller's apartment, Miller's ex-flame Clea drops by and finds out Miller has lied to her about his fiancee and to his fiancee about Clea, and, of course, the millionaire Bamberger shows up at the worst possible time.
Brindsley Miller (played by Lucas Anderson) and ex-girlfriend Clea (played by Ruth Ranson) argue while Miller's fiancee (played by Linsey Krueger) listens.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
For the most part the characters are stock farce characters the frazzled Miller, intimidating military-speaking Col. Melkett, ditzy debutante Carol Melkett, prim Miss Furnival and goofy wealthy Mr. Gorringe. However, they do break out of their molds as the play progresses for instance Miller gives up trying to control the situation and Carol Melkett turns out to have more in her head and backbone than just pampered fluff.
That's what Ernst wanted the actors to do develop the characters into something more than stock personas.
"I think the key was to not caricature them. ... I'm encouraging them not to rely on what their idea of what their character is and put their own spin on them," Ernst said.
The possibilities for physical humor in the play are nearly endless, what with the actors stumbling around in the pretend dark. The actor who plays Miller does the most blind bumbling, and with a background as a dancer, Lucas Anderson is well suited to it.
"He really knows how to use his body, that's for sure," said Jessica Bookey, the show's producer.
The show is a fast-paced, slapstick comedy with witty but not portentous dialogue. Ernst said she doesn't want people to think the title of the play, "Black Comedy," means it's nothing but dark humor, which doesn't appeal to everyone. The name refers to the malfunctioning lights. Ernst said she rates the show PG for some off-color dialogue and said it isn't suitable for young children, but older kids up to adults will have plenty to laugh at.
"It is really going to be funny," she said. "If people want to just come and laugh, this is the show to do it."
The cast has been doing so since they started rehearsals.
"It's already hilarious," Ernst said. "It's been hilarious since we started rehearsing. The cast is super. They got it right away and took off with their parts. Now we're just polishing it up. We've made ourselves laugh already so now we're just getting it ready for an audience."
Bookey said the comedy farce is a departure from other shows staged at the Kenai Performers' Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. It's funny without being serious too, or a musical or kids' show.
"People are going to leave here with a new idea of what the Kenai Performers can do in this space," Bookey said. "They'll be surprised."
"Black Comedy" is performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday this week and next week at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 and 12. Tickets are $10 for general audiences and $8 for Kenai Performers members with a $1 refund given at the door for those who show a ticket stub from October's performance of "Fathers and Sons." Tickets are available at Charlotte's in Kenai, River City Books in Soldotna, M&M Market in Nikiski and at the door.
Following the play, Anderson and Linsey Krueger, who plays Carol Melkett, will do a swing-dancing demonstration and short lesson for anyone interested in swinging along. There also will be a dessert concession with food from Charlotte's Restaurant.
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