Arts & Culture

Cal Poly’s ‘Black Comedy’ finds humor in the dark

Carol (Sarah Gamblin), Colonel Melkett (Daniel Cook) and Clea (Katryna Fogel) appear in a scene from the Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department production of “Black Comedy.”
Carol (Sarah Gamblin), Colonel Melkett (Daniel Cook) and Clea (Katryna Fogel) appear in a scene from the Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department production of “Black Comedy.”

The Cal Poly Theatre and Dance Department’s production of “Black Comedy” literally starts with its audience in the dark.

As the lights went down during a recent performance, the majority of the audience members obviously expected those lights to come back up again and the play to begin, as most do. Instead, we were greeted with a loud stomp and about several minutes of description-heavy dialogue while the stage remained completely black.

Behind me, a student whispered “This is weird.” And it was, but when the lights came back on, it soon became obvious why the trick was necessary.

The entire one-act play is set during a blackout.

To illustrate this, the scenes in which the characters have working lights are pitch-black or dimmed, while the brightest lights shine when the characters are theoretically in the dark. Get it?

Written by English playwright Peter Shaffer, “Black Comedy” focuses on the crazy shenanigans that occur when an engaged couple, Carol Melkett (Sarah Gamblin) and Brindsley Miller (Garret Lamoureux) host a get-together in 1960s-era London.

Melkett and Miller have invited millionaire George Bamberger (Rotem Drori) to view Miller’s artwork, in the hopes that the “world’s richest man” would purchase some of the pieces. Melkett’s stern father, Colonel Melkett (Daniel Cook), is also expected to stop by and meet his daughter’s fiancé for the first time.

All this is thwarted when a blown fuse sends the entire building in a blackout, and hilarity ensues.

From an “accidentally” drunken teetotaler neighbor (Gabrielle Duong) to a German electrician (Aidan Turner) who quotes Hamlet, each character in “Black Comedy” is wackier than the last. All are played excellently under the direction of Josh Machamer.

My favorite performances? It was a tie between Joshua Mueller, a loud presence as eccentric neighbor Harold Gorringe, and Lamoureux, who displays the wonderful physicality as he attempts to remove stolen furniture from his home in the dark — without alerting the people in the apartment. (Katryna Fogel deserves an honorable mention for her purely devious portrayal of jealous ex-girlfriend Clea; she throws water on the blind party-goers with nefarious glee.)

All of the actors do an exemplary job of convincing the audience they are in complete darkness. At no point during the production did I notice an actor finding a prop just a little too easily or obviously focusing on someone speaking to them — and I was looking.

Because “Black Comedy” is set in London, the characters speak primarily in British accents delivered at a rapid-fire pace.

Although some people may have trouble understanding the characters because of this, “Black Comedy” is one of those shows where the words matter somewhat less than the action. You may not catch exactly what leading lady Carol is saying at first, but you do understand her fumbling throughout the darkness on the phone, or her obvious distress at her fiancé later in the show.

Often British humor can fly over the heads of American audiences, but that isn’t the case with “Black Comedy.” Something about the inherent physicality of the jokes coupled with the actors’ superb delivery helps overcome that divide, leaving the audience in fits of giggles throughout the play.

In short, “Black Comedy” is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an evening. While not exactly as intellectual as “Equus,” one of Shaffer’s more critically acclaimed works, the play is exactly what I like in a comedy: fast, silly and just a little bit enlightening.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

“Black Comedy”

8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Spanos Theatre, Cal Poly

$20, $12 seniors, students, children and Cal Poly faculty and staff

805-756-4849 or www.pacslo.org

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