Forget the actors for a moment. The most important person in Peninsula Players’ latest show is the lighting technician.
That’s because the theatrical premise of “Black Comedy” is that when the stage lights go out, the actors behave as if they are on. And when the lights come on, they act as if all around them is dark.
The comic result, according to director Andy Tauber, is a show that is “extremely hysterical.”
Tauber retired to the Long Beach Peninsula after a career that included working behind the scenes in Hollywood. He stage-managed the show while attending Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys, California, and later directed it for a Bay Area dinner theater. “The gimmick is ‘everything that can go wrong goes wrong’ — and then there are other things that can go wrong, too.”
It is his second show for Peninsula Players. In March, he was stage manager for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
The one-act farce will be performed as a double bill with “The Son Also Rises,” a short comedy by Ocean Park writer Robert Brake. The shows open Friday, Nov. 9, at the River City Playhouse in Ilwaco and run six performances over two weekends.
How it began
For “Black Comedy,” British writer Peter Shaffer began with the reverse lighting premise — then known as “Chinese darkness” — for a one-act play to accompany another show that starred Maggie Smith and Albert Finney.
It made its London debut in 1965 in an era when controversial Ken Tynan was pushing the envelope of experimental theater during the “Swinging Sixties.” Derek Jacobi starred, with Smith and Finney in supporting roles.
The 1967 American production saw the Broadway debuts of Michael Crawford (later the original “Phantom”) as the impoverished sculptor and Lynn Redgrave, a member of Britain’s five-generation acting family, as his fiancée.
Taking these lead roles in the Players’ version are Barry Sears and Players’ newcomer Kathy Warnert. Tauber said Sears plays a “hipster starving artist” seeking to “marry up” who is engaged to a vapid debutante. The pair have stolen expensive antique furniture from a neighbor to adorn their apartment to impress her father, who is played by James Tweedie.
In the reverse-lighting format, the action begins in the dark. A power short-circuit causes the lights to come on.
Natasha Beals, who made her stage debut as the villain’s sidekick in PAPA’s summer production of “Beauty and the Beast,” plays Sears’ character’s former mistress, who shows up unexpectedly; Rose Power is an abstemious neighbor who is inevitably served too many alcoholic drinks during the blackout. “Rose is wonderful doing it,” Tauber said.
Melissa Goldberg portrays a German electrician, Schuppanzigh, who is mistaken for a wealthy art buyer, played by newcomer Patrick Buckley, who the couple are also trying to impress. To complete the mayhem, the neighbor, played by Kevin Perry, returns early and is upset to discover all his furniture is missing.
For the record, the lighting technician is Tauber himself.
The title of Brake’s 15-minute comedy, “The Son Also Rises,” echoes the name of the 1926 Hemingway novel, but has nothing to do with bullfighting.
Brake is an author and retired university teacher whose claims to fame include giving journalist Tom Brokaw a “B” grade in a speech class eons before his successful TV career.
Brake and others involved in the production are coy about revealing too many details to avoid spoiling the surprises. But Tauber said it makes a perfect double bill. “I thought it was a fun little play,” he said, recalling when he first saw Brake’s script. “It’s a great opening for ‘Black Comedy’ to get people in the mood.”
The show parodies Arthur Miller’s 1949 Tony Award-winning “Death of a Salesman.” In Brake’s version, subtitled “Willy Loman Redux,” the retired salesman desperately tries to sway his son “Happy” to indulge in a career like his.
Three actors from the “Black Comedy” cast do double duty; Tweedie appears as the salesman, Goldberg is his loyal wife and Buckley appears as Happy.
Giving away anything further would diminish its comic effect, Brake indicated. “That’s all I’d want prospective audiences to know prior to viewing the play.”
In recent years, Brake has become known locally for writing newspaper columns about a range of subjects, including politics and humor. In 2014, he wrote and directed a one-act play called “Dumpty’s Demise,” a comedy exploring whether Humpty Dumpty fell to his death or was murdered.