Peter Shaffer's one-act plays "Black Comedy" and "The White Liars" pose problems specific to their structure and style. Director Philip Weitzman's success in overcoming those problems are at opposite poles in these productions at the Garden Grove Community Theatre.
"Black Comedy" rests on a fascinating base, in which the audience has to accept a dark stage as being fully lit, and complete darkness when the lights come on. At the start, the stage is dark; Brindsley Miller (Norman Wilson) and his fiancee, Carol Melkett (Elizabeth Imus), are chatting cozily about a wealthy art collector (Christopher Knutson) coming to see Brindsley's sculpture.
Suddenly a fuse blows, and Brindsley's London flat is flooded with light.
That's the gag, and the play's thin plot depends on the abilities of the director and his cast to play it all with a straight face.
They do just fine. Weitzman's tempos are appropriately brisk, and he knows where the laughs are. And he achieves a British flavor that helps make Shaffer's gag work beautifully.
The whole cast is capable. Well-tempered performances include Mary O'Brien's friendly neighbor, Mitchell Nunn's irascible father, Bryan Grosman's befuddled power company man and Wendy Skillman's diabolical jilted girlfriend. Steve Gomer misses with his stereotypical, dishonest and overdone gay neighbor, but Wilson shines with aplomb and style as Brindsley.
"The White Liars," which opens the evening, is a different story. Shaffer's tale of liars deceiving liars, and being tricked in turn, is not too far from Harold Pinter country. But Weitzman hasn't caught on.
A fortuneteller named Sophie operates her con on a pier at a sleazy British resort. Two young men--a popular musician with the White Liars and his manager--who come not for fortunes but for aid in sorting out their odd relationship, vie with Sophie in their self-deception and the falseness of their truths.
It's a fascinating script. But Weitzman has realized neither the mystery at its core nor the darkly humorous rhythms that flow through it. At best, it's a surface treatment of a rich and difficult piece, and only Wilson stands out for the hard, ebon patina of his musician.
* "Black Comedy" and "The White Liars," Garden Grove Community Theatre, 12001 St. Mark St., Garden Grove. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends March 11. $10. (714) 897-5122. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.
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Norman Wilson: Brindsley Miller/Tom
Elizabeth Imus: Carol Melkett
Mary O'Brien: Miss Furnival/Sophie
Mitchell Nunn: Colonel Melkett
Steve Gomer: Harold Gorringe/Frank
Bryan Grosman: Schuppanzigh
Wendy Skillman: Clea
Christopher Knutson Georg Bamberger
A Garden Grove Community Theatre production of one-act comedies by Peter Shaffer, produced by Michael Ross, directed by Philip Weitzman. Scenic design: Weitzman. Lighting design: Lee Schulman. Assistant director/stage manager: Patti Toubail.