A Pitch Black Comedy at the College of Marin
It can be hard at times to think critically about a show where I/you/anyone knows members of the cast. That thought returned to my mind last night when back at the College of Marin (COM) for their season closer. In this case, I know two members of the cast who happened to have the two leading roles. I also know the stage manager and set designer. I’m sure this dual relationship can be a conundrum for professional critics, when and if they know anyone involved with a production.
In this case, my pre-existing connection didn’t really bother my opinion of the show. It may have unconsciously enhanced my impressions, where I was especially pleased to see my friends in leading parts. I also noticed how the play, set in a London flat, was an appropriate choice for Royal Wedding Day. (I was also sporting my London “MIND THE GAP” t-shirt during the day.) I see upon looking up background of the play that the original 1965 production featured Derek Jacobi, Maggie Smith and Albert Finney in leading roles.
I appreciated how the show plays with theatrical convention, opening in complete darkness and then bringing on the lights only after a few minutes of dialogue. It presents a skillful acting and staging challenge in that the lights are supposed to be out, onstage, so the actors have to perform as if they can’t see anyone else. This works to their advantage when another character enters halfway through the play and proceeds to steal the focus of the plot away to her. The plight of the main character becomes especially notable, or even reputable, when his deception and double crossing emerges later in the show.
I often notice how COM chooses to spotlight local non-college age actors alongside their student performers. This was true again in this show. In particular, the role of “Miss Furnival” offered actress Marilyn Hughes several opportunities to carry the plot and be appreciated. It might have been interesting to see the dramaturgy work for this show and how we look at “historical” 1960’s London now in the present day. I’m fully aware that the past becomes glamorized, while the reality may be more mundane. In some ways, director Jeffrey Bihr’s staging played off that knowledge… the audience could see some of what went on, on and offstage, light and dark, but wasn’t completely told the whole story.