In "Black Comedy," characters were plunged into darkness by a blown fuse in their apartment building. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRIS DOUGHERTY

MDIHS theater season closed on hilarious note



Mount Desert Island High School’s closing theatrical production kept the cast largely in the dark and audiences largely laughing during “Black Comedy,” Peter Shaffer’s clever farce about things that go bump and terribly wrong in the night.

This was a smart choice of play by director Chris Dougherty, as it is the sort of demanding physical comedy that a young, limber cast such as this one is well-suited for.

And speaking of suits, costumer Marilee Marchese once again cobbled together just the right era of ensembles for this cast. Zachary Uliano’s fox-red suit looked as if it was tailor made for him in the 1960s on London’s Carnaby Street. Uliano not only looked the part of a poncy mid-century aesthete, with his plummy British accent, he gave his best performance ever, as Harold Gorringe, a neighbor who returned home unexpectedly in the midst of a blackout and … I’m getting ahead of myself.

The play opened on a darkened stage, illuminated by a single table light. But it soon became clear that the characters on stage — Brindsley Miller, a struggling artist (the excellent Desmond Reifsnyder) and his new fiancée, Carol, (an excellently annoying Dezirae Zaman) — were not experiencing the same lack of light, as they complemented each other’s outfits and wandered about without bumping into anything. They were tidying up for the expected visit of a wealthy art collector and Carol’s father, a retired colonel. Brindsley was expressing second thoughts about their temporary theft of his neighbor Harold’s antique furniture and artwork for the important occasion. Carol assured him that Harold, who wasn’t expected home until next week, would never know.

On such misguided premises, terrific farces are made.

When Carol switched on the stereo, a fuse blew. The stage plunged into, well, light, which was experienced as a blackout by the characters.

Thus, we got to witness all the fumbling, misdirection, collisions and near misses as the room filled with guests. The mayhem started with the Colonel (a marvelously bellicose Ethan Leonard), whose communication was so grudging he often spoke in initials, and an elderly neighbor Miss Furnival (a dithery Alexandra Stavnesli), who wandered in, frightened by the blackout. There soon were other unexpected and unseen arrivals.

With the stage fully lit, we also got to see Harold’s purloined furniture and art on Carlene Hirsch’s appropriately shabby-elegant set and Brindsley’s monstrous sculpture, which he hoped to sell that evening.

The only misstep here was what appeared to be an oversized and wrinkled floral table cloth on the coffee table, which was both out of place and center stage, making it hard to ignore.

But all due props go to the props crew for the elegant pedestal telephone. Brindsley managed to tangle himself up in its cord while calling for help.

Reifsnyder’s comic timing and the rising pitch of his voice as he ascended into hysteria was, well, hysterical.

A primary cause of poor Brindsley’s panic was Harold’s early return home. This made it imperative for the engaged couple to keep him out of his own apartment and keep the room dark while Brindsley returned Harold’s furniture and brought back his own.

While Brindsley moved furniture, Carol kept busy blowing out any candle or lighter that was lit. Kudos go to the lighting crew, who dimmed the stage in split-second response to these brief moments of light.

Mad respect here as well goes to Dougherty for some hilarious and horrifying direction, beautifully implemented by Reifsnyder, who tipsily maneuvered heavy chairs and tables within inches of the heads of guests, all of whom were clueless of the danger and never gave the slightest flinch.

Leonard as the Colonel was constantly in danger as he wandered about the room trying to find his daughter or the bar to get a Scotch. When he finally did return to his seat, Brindsley had replaced it with a rocking chair, which flung him and his hard-won Scotch to the floor.

Actually, everyone, including the teetotaler Miss Furnival, got plotzed, which just added to the madness.

All this insanity reached its zenith when Brindsley’s former lover Clea (an arch Carolyn Graber) turned up to reclaim her man and, in the invisibility of the dark, wrought more havoc.

An electrical repairman (nicely realized by Rawl Blackett) turned up as well and was mistaken for the awaited art collector (Peter Benson), who didn’t show up until the sculpture has been dismantled by an angry mob who intended to use the pieces to bludgeon Brindsley, if only they could find him.

It was all rollicking, riotous good fun, earning the cast and crew a well-deserved standing ovation for the opening night performance and ending out the school’s theatrical season on a very high note.

 

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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