Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Brings Slapstick and Stamina with ‘Black Comedy’


Jacksonville’s Douglas Anderson School of the Arts staged the English farce Black Comedy, the last main stage play of the current season, in the Dubow Theatre during April 10 – 13, 2019.  The play was written in 1965 by British playwright Peter Shaffer, who is deservedly well-known as the Tony award-winning author of “Amadeus” and “Equus.”

The play was directed by Theater Faculty Member Joseph Kemper who apparently chose it to ensure the student actors and crew had demanding challenging material. They were equal to the task, which required British accents throughout and physical comedy stretched to the limits.

The play was written to be performed under a reversed lighting scheme (which might have been confusing to some audience members). The action, set in a London apartment, begins on a darkened stage; a reversal of the perception of the actors that the lights are on. After a few minutes of conversation, a fuse blows and bright light floods the stage – which puts the actors in blackout mode. So while the audience can see them, they are performing as if in total darkness. While they’re waiting for a technician to fix the fuse, they use matches, flash lights and cigarette lighters from time to time to provide light – which dims down the stage lights.

Brindsley Miller (Cameron Schmitt), an aspiring young sculptor and his lovely fiancée Carol (Rhea Ailani) live in the flat and have “borrowed” expensive pieces of furniture from Harold (Kyle Worrell), a neighbor who lives across the hall. He is out of town and unaware of their “borrowing.” After his unexpected return, Brindsley begins trying to return the furniture to his apartment, which isn’t an easy task in the dark.  

The couple wants to impress Georg Bamberger (Silas Langner) a millionaire art collector and Carol’s father Colonel Melkett (Lennon Myers) as they are hoping their wealthy visitors will purchase Brindsley’s work.

Three other zany characters confuse things further. After Clea (Samantha Jenkins), Brindsley’s attractive former mistress, asks for permission to visit and is told she is not welcome, she shows up anyway. As you might guess, those in the darkened apartment are unaware of her entrance and perplexed by the origin of the shenanigans she brings to the story.

One of the funniest characters in this farcical stew is Miss Furnival (Hannah Smith), a religiously observant spinster who lives upstairs and is a teetotaler, who has joined the others because she’s afraid of the dark. After being given a glass mistakenly filled with vodka instead of water, she gets totally smashed. And hilarious. She received the most applause at curtain call and we would agree she had the best British accent and the most humorous role.

Colby Goldsmith portrays Schuppanzigh, the repairman sent to fix the electricity. He gets his share of laughs.

The end of the play brings the arrival of the millionaire collector Bamberger, who is totally deaf. Things do not go well for him, he gets blown up by the defective electrical system, which shreds his clothing.  

The two-story set was excellent and proved to be very sturdy as well

All of the roles are very physical, requiring remarkable timing with collisions, falls, rolls, slides, slithers, and other elements of slapstick. And while we admired the physical skills of all the actors, special acknowledgement goes to the expertise and stamina of Cameron Schmitt, demonstrated seeming non-stop throughout the production.  

Two upcoming events are of interest. Issue Based Theatre Showcase will be staged in the Black Box Theatre during April 24 – 26 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are free.

The Annual Theatre Showcase will be staged in the Dubow Theatre on May 17 (Grades 9-11) and May 18 (Grade 12) at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $10 for students and $15 for adults; the tickets admits purchasers to both shows. For additional information and tickets call 904-346-5620 ext 122.

The production crew, assisted by over forty student members, included Joe Kemper (Director), Tess Therrien (Student Assistant Director), Savannah Roy (Stage Manager), Nolan O’Dell (Scenic Design), Austin Kelm (Lighting Design), Adrianna Caludio (Sound Design), Jennifer Kilgore (Technical Director), Susan Peters (Charge Scenic Artist), Jaeger Hess (Student Technical Director), Bonnie Harrison (Dialect Coach), and Brooks Davenport (Assistant Scenic Designer).

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.