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Tuesday, June 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Humor Shines Through In ‘Black Comedy’

“Black Comedy” Friday, July 11, Spokane Civic Theatre

A great farce gimmick is a beautiful thing indeed.

Peter Shaffer’s “Black Comedy” has an ingenious gimmick at its core.

When the play opens, the stage is in complete blackness, although the characters think the lights are on.

Suddenly, the lights flash brightly on, and the actors shout and start squawking about blown fuses and blackouts.

And then they start careening around the stage, hands in front of them like blind people, crashing into the furniture.

The rest of the play consists of blackout-related comic business: pratfalls, mistaken identities and hilarious misunderstandings.

The Civic’s production, directed by Norman Gano, doesn’t quite realize the full potential of this concept. But it realizes more than enough to make for an enjoyable and laugh-filled evening of theater.

Shaffer, who later became known for more meaty plays such as “Equus,” “Amadeus” and “Lettice and Lovage,” keeps the blackout gimmick fresh by inserting all kinds of clever complications into the plot.

For one thing, the apartment is filled with priceless antiques, which are in constant danger from the stumbling occupants. Also, the antiques were borrowed without permission from a neighbor, who unexpectedly shows up.

Brindsley (Scott Finlayson) has to surreptitiously carry them back to the neighboring apartment without anybody realizing.

On top of this, there are all kinds of other complications involving old girlfriends and future father-in-laws.

The cast plays the whole thing with good British-farce gusto. Finlayson is suitably frazzled as Brindsley, playing him as a Michael Palin-like ‘60s London swinger. Kelly Faulkner is deliciously bubbleheaded as his fiance, Carol, who says things like “sexypoo” a lot.

Ron Ragone as the stern colonel, Maynard Villers as the neighbor, John Brooks as the electrician, and Barrie Allen as a German millionaire all earn their share of laughs.

However, Kathie Doyle-Lipe and Kyrsten Suzanne Lee are the real standouts of this cast. Lee is very naughty as the old girlfriend who shows up in the darkened apartment and proceeds to throw a spanner in the works by (1) seducing Brindsley and (2) pretending to be someone else. Lee has an expressive voice and flair for comedy.

Doyle-Lipe steals the show, as she often does, with an absolutely hysterical turn as the elderly neighbor Miss Furnival. She’s prim and proper, at least until somebody mistakenly slips her a glass of vodka instead of the lemonade she requested.

Pretty soon she is surreptitiously sneaking over to the liquor cabinet and pouring herself stiff shots. And not long after that, Miss Furnival is shouting Bible verses and raising hell. Nobody does this kind of physical comedy like Doyle-Lipe.

Only a couple of things kept the show from its potential. The English accents were broad, sometimes too broad, and they often veered into a Scottish or Irish accent. It might be a better idea to go a little bit easier on the accents.

Also, the physical comedy could sometimes be a little more natural. Often, the pratfalls and stumblings looked staged rather than real. It’s tough to pull off, but the laughs will be much louder and longer if the stumbles and trips don’t look fake.

Nik Adams’ set was a nice two-story affair, with a bedroom at the top.

And the people in the light booth were especially busy in this show. Every time somebody lit a match, the lights actually had to dim.

“Black Comedy” continues through Aug. 2. Call 325-2507 for tickets.

, DataTimes

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