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Theatre in the Round's 'Black Comedy' understands dark art

Bob Suh

Bob Suh

As audiences are reminded before every performance, a 67-year history makes Theatre in the Round the longest-running theater company in Minneapolis. Black Comedy, a British one-act by a well-respected playwright, is the sort of show that’s long been the company’s meat and potatoes. Why change the recipe?

The 1965 farce was penned by Peter Shaffer, who would go on to write Amadeus and Equus. Its twist is to keep its characters literally in the dark... but only from their perspective. The lighting scheme is inverted: When the fictional room is lit, the audience sees nothing. When the putative power goes out, the stage lights go up so the audience can enjoy watching the actors stumble into the furniture and, more consequentially, into each other.

The story has a classic premise, with a Swinging London flavor that befits its setting. Brindsley (Josh Carson) is a sculptor hoping to achieve two goals in a single night. A wealthy collector (Don Larsson) is coming over to peruse Brindsley’s work; if a big sale is forthcoming, Brindsley wants it to happen in front of Colonel Melkett (Don Maloney), who might then be favorably inclined to let his daughter Carol (Kaitlin Klemencic) marry the artist.

Just as the guests are set to arrive, though, a fuse blows and plunges Brindsley’s entire building into darkness. Repairs require the services of an electrician (H. William Kirsch), while neighbors Miss Furnival (a deadpan Alison Anderson) and Harold (Matt Saxe) are at loose ends. When Brindsley gets a phone call from a sexy ex (Kendra Alaura), her inevitable arrival is a development you may, so to speak, see coming.

Shaffer turns Brindsley’s apartment into a sort of stage-farce escape room, with pitfalls including a well-stocked bar, fragile artwork, and a trap door. Why doesn’t someone just flick a lighter? Someone does, but Brindsley invents a reason to keep the apartment dark while he returns objects borrowed, without permission, from Harold.

Black Comedy is a perfect show for the theater’s arena stage, which gives the audience an unobstructed view of the shenanigans unfolding in two or three places at once. Set designer Lee Christiansen even perches Brindsley’s bedroom in a raised nook where we can watch fights and flings unfold.

For his lead, director Brian P. Joyce enlisted an actor who’s no stranger to barely controlled chaos, having just fought his way through a sellout season of Die Hard Christmas at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. Carson’s comic timing and kinetic energy serve this production well, though his delivery isn’t remotely as dry as his drinks. In a solid ensemble cast, standout Alaura throws herself into the fray with particular abandon.

Before Sunday’s matinee, first-time audience members were asked to raise their hands. After the curtain call, one of the newcomers could be seen grinning widely. “What a play!” she said. “I liked it.” Another satisfied customer.

Black Comedy
Theatre in the Round
245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
612-333-3010; through February 2