Peter Shaffer's 'Black Comedy' Lights Up SCT Center Stage

Jun 3, 2016

When the stage is lit up, the characters are actually in the dark.  When the stage is dark, the lights are actually on in the characters' world.  That may not make sense, but hopefully it will if you attend Springfield Contemporary Theatre's new production of Peter Shaffer's 1965 British farce Black Comedy, opening tonight and running through June 19 at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza.

As director Patrick Schuster explains, the show starts out "completely in the dark.  The gimmick is, when the lights are on inside the flat, it's completely dark (on stage).  When the power goes out (a major plot point here), the stage lights come up.  It's a reversal for the audience, so they can actually see everything.  Adie Williams, one of the actors in the show, says the audience will "have to just listen to the first few minutes" of the show. 

Most people probably recognize Peter Shaffer for his highly fictionalized stage and screen version of Mozart's life, Amadeus.  Black Comedy is one of his earlier efforts, dating from 1965. Director Patrick Schuster describes the plot. "The play is about a young artist who is trying to impress a millionaire who is coming to view his artwork--and hopefully buy something and make him a well-known artist.   (The artist) and his fiancee come up with the 'brilliant' (?) idea to steal their neighbor's antiques from his flat while  he's away... just for the evening." (The neighbor is a stuffy antique dealer by trade.) "At the same time the fiancee has invited her father to meet the young artist, and she wants to impress Daddy as well. And then all the lights go out, and it becomes this farce about people stumbling around in the dark trying to impress each other." Except that the audience can see everything they're doing because the stage lights are actually on at this point. "And then all of a sudden the antique-dealer neighbor comes home!  And the artist now hast to try to get all the antique furniture etc. out, and his regular stuff back in.  And then his ex-girlfriend shows up. He's been lying all this time to the fiancee that it's been over for four years--and it's only really been six weeks.  So now he's hiding her (the ex-girlfriend) in the bedroom."   Adie Williams plays the ex, who she says "gets great joy out of just making him squirm!"

Oh, and there's also the tipsy old lady from upstairs, who's afraid of the dark....

Sound like a classic British slapstick farce?  You've got the general idea.  It's set in a London apartment building in 1965, the year Shaffer wrote and premiered the work.  There's great '60s music throughout the show, and they've decorated the set with artwork by local artists--including Adie Williams herself. At least some of it will be available for sale, though you'll have to wait until after the show closes on June 19th! Adie says, "I think this should become a thing: getting some local art up on the sets" of local play productions. Patrick agrees: "that's what community theater is all about, getting the community involved."

I wondered if the cast has found it difficult to maintain British accents throughout the performance. Says Adie--who in fact has to do two different accents--"That's not as difficult as pretending you're in the dark! You can't look the other actors in the eye, and that is really difficult to do."

Performances of Black Comedy will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm through June 19 at SCT Center Stage.  Springfield Contemporary Theatre is also running a special promotion during the run of the show: anyone over age 90 gets free admission.  Call 831-8001 or visit  http://www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org  for ticket information.