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Stage review

Double helping of farce hits the spot

Brian Avers, Ginifer King, and Mark H. Dold are delightfully silly in the souffle-light 'Black Comedy.' Brian Avers, Ginifer King, and Mark H. Dold are delightfully silly in the souffle-light "Black Comedy." (Kevin Sprague)

PITTSFIELD -- Peter Shaffer's "Black Comedy" is light in more ways than one. At just 80 minutes long, it's a light evening's entertainment, and it's also a light farce that hangs entirely on a single gimmick -- one that involves light.

The gimmick -- or, as the Barrington Stage Company's program notes put it, the 600-year-old tradition drawn from Chinese theater -- is that darkness is represented onstage by bright light, and normal light by total darkness. So we start in a blackout, with two silly Londoners chatting desultorily (but expositorily) about the big evening they've got planned. Then they blow a fuse, and we get to see them in all their Pop '60s glory -- while they're left, literally and figuratively, in the dark.

Naturally, complications ensue. Turns out the silly young man is an aspiring artist, the silly young woman is his fiancee, and tonight's the night when they've invited not only a billionaire potential patron but also the girl's father, a prickly colonel who'll need some persuading to accept the match. To impress their guests, the lovebirds have spruced up the flat by "borrowing" some priceless antique furniture and knickknacks from the fussy next-door neighbor, who's out of town for the weekend.

You'll never guess: The neighbor comes home early. The father is outraged by the young man's failure to prepare adequately for an electrical emergency. Another neighbor, a teetotaling spinster (no one said these characters were models of originality), drops in to chat, stays for a drink, and gets the wrong glass in the dark. Er, light.

Meanwhile, young Brindsley is trying to sneak the antiques back to their proper places next door, fastidious Harold the neighbor is growing increasingly suspicious, and everyone is fumbling around helplessly in the pitch-white room. And then Brindsley's old girl- friend --

Well, yes, it is a farce, and a very silly one at that. But it bounces along delightfully, with director Lou Jacob expertly keeping all the actors from bumping into the furniture (except when they're supposed to). Brian Avers makes a goofy, gormless Brindsley, and Nell Mooney is wonderfully, nightmarishly perky as his fiancee, Carol. The supporting players all round out their two-dimensional roles with verve and skill, though Mark H. Dold is stuck with the thankless task of making Harold seem like something less tiresome than the dated stereotype of a fey antiques dealer that he is.

There's a nasty undertone in here somewhere -- Brindsley is crueler than you might expect, particularly to those who love him -- but Jacob, working with the relentlessly cheery, Mod palette of Adrian W. Jones's set and Ilona Somogyi's costumes, mostly keeps the shadows at bay. Thanks, too, to Scott Pinkney's meticulous lighting design, "Black Comedy" keeps all of its darkness resolutely light.

French treat
As an aperitif to this light meal, you might try "Scapin," this year's free outdoor offering at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox. The devil-may-care, loose-limbed adaptation of Molière's comedy about a wily servant is shown in two parts, which you can see on successive evenings or, sometimes, in the afternoon and evening of the same day.

You can also do fine by just dipping in to one half or the other; it's not hard to see by the end of part 1 how things will turn out, and part 2 begins with a hilarious shorthand summary of what has gone before. Anyway, plot's not really the point here: This is meant to be just good silly fun, and it is.

Unlike "Black Comedy," it's also perfectly suited for children. Each part lasts about an hour, there's plenty of slapstick and broad comedy, and the tented performance space of the Rose Footprint (the patch of lawn where S&Co. hopes someday to replicate an Elizabethan theater) gives it all the giddy, joyous air of a circus. But it's a circus with a classic script and some very skilled performers, so even grown-ups will go home happy.

Louise Kennedy can be reached at


Black Comedy

Play by Peter Shaffer

Directed by: Lou Jacob. Set, Adrian W. Jones. Costumes, Ilona Somogyi. Lights, Scott Pinkney. Sound, Daniel A. Little.

At: Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, through Aug. 4. Tickets, $34-$54. 413-236-8888,


Adapted by Bill Irwin and Mark O'Donnell from Molière's play

Directed by: Jonathan Croy. Costumes, Jenna Ware. Music direction, Marc Scipione.

At: Shakespeare & Company Rose Footprint Stage, Lenox, through Sept. 1. Tickets, free but required. 413-637-3353,