BAR HARBOR — Chris Dougherty, the director of Peter Shaffer’s clever farce “Black Comedy” at Mount Desert Island High School, has the advantage of another week of rehearsals before her play opens on May 11. But she has an added challenge: blocking the considerable action in this play in a total virtual blackout.
While the audience will be able to see perfectly well what is happening on stage, the characters are operating as if they have been plunged into darkness by a blown fuse in their apartment building.
“In order to get them to behave like people in a blackout, we took them to the painting studio, blindfolded them, strewed furniture all over the place and then directed them to move about,” Dougherty said. “It was hilarious, but it showed them how their bodies behaved when they had no points of reference.”
She asked her cast to remember their physical responses to this situation and employ them even when they could see perfectly well where they should go and to whom they were talking.
“Essentially, I asked them to break all the rules of theater, “Dougherty said. “Don’t face the person you are speaking to, do bump into the furniture and never go in the right direction when moving from point A to point B.”
At a rehearsal last weekend, her cast of eight was working on this concept, and with a few slip-ups — instinctively looking toward the person they were addressing or protecting their shins from an encounter with a set prop — they did remarkably well.
Dougherty said the physicality will improve immensely when the actors are completely off book and can use both their hands and faces more expressively.
She pointed out the she is not the only one working out extra challenges with this play. Her lighting director, Grey Burkart, and tech crew also are operating in a bizarre world of opposites, where everything that is dark is light, and vice versa.
“Characters turn on flashlights, cigarette lighters and matches in order to see better, and whenever this happens, the stage instantly gets darker and the audience sees less,” Dougherty said. “The people in the lighting booth have to be super quick on the cues to make this work.
“Also, no open flame is allowed on stage, so the tech crew has to come up with that special effect. I don’t know what it will be, but I trust them to figure it out.”
Bringing the high school’s award-winning theatrical season to a close, “Black Comedy” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, May 13, at 2 p.m.