I expected to go see a black comedy in Peter Shaffer’s Black Comedy. I expected that there would be in actuality a serious subject matter handled with humor; hence “black comedy”. It, in fact, turned out to be slapstick humor, played off on the literal meaning of “black” and “comedy”. Nevertheless, I found it enjoyable and entertaining.
Brindsley is a starving artist, whose girlfriend, Carol, is the daughter of a stuffy, judgemental old man. The play actually begins in a dark room, where, Brindsley and Carol, intent on impressing his stuffy future-father-in-law-to-be, have “borrowed” furniture from an absent neighbour. They are also expecting for the evening, a millionaire by the name of George Bamberger, deaf (to add to the humor), who also happens to be an art collector. Just as they are getting done setting up the room, a fuse blows out sending everyone into the dark. As the lights go full-on on stage, you realize that their life has been lit up until now, and as our lights have gone on, their room has gone completely dark.
Once the room is dark, typical, predictable neighbours start showing up, starting with a neighbour, an old lady who I believe was a preacher’s daughter, showing up before the expected father-in-law. Colonel Melkett, the typical difficult father, is completely unimpressed by Brindsley. To make it funnier, the neighbour whose furniture has been stolen comes home early, unexpectedly. Desparately not wanting to get caught in his little funny web of lies, Brindsley brings Harold, the furniture owner over too. Then to make matters worse, Brindsley’s mistress shows up for a rendez-vous as well. The rest of the evening is spent by Brindsley covering his moves, trying to hilariously get (more like slide) Harold’s furniture back into his apartment, without Harold noticing, and get his own back into his apartment, all in the dark! This is interlaced with mismanaged drinking, and a spicy meeting with Clea. When she calls, he specifically asks her not to come over. She, however, does show up, quietly and unannounced. Brindsley, feeling his way around in the dark, finds her by recognizing the way her butt felt! The Colonel’s lighter is a prop that I found amusing. In a dark room, searching for things or people with a lighter is much like using your cell-phone in the dark to find your car keys.
Subsequently, the electrician shows up, and the stereotypical characters mistake him for the deaf millionaire, thanks to his accent. The characters assume that all accents sound alike, delivering predictable laughs, but amusing nonetheless. When the lights finally do come back , Brindsley is in big trouble. His affair has been exposed, Harold has found out about his furniture and the Colonel and now Carol as well aren’t happy with him at all. This play showed that human beings come in so many layers. The simplest people, we find, the ones with the morals are the ones we find complex. and the most complex people, we tend to excuse as the most “human-like.” The most layered character of this play, in the end, is caught in his own web of lies.