Honoring farce


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In the play Black Comedy, a sculptor waits for an art dealer in his London flat, which is bathed in darkness. Suddenly, the power goes out — and the lights come up on the disoriented characters, who can’t see a thing.

This reversed light trick is one of many strange, comical features that will be explored at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1501 Fifth St., this weekend. City Circle’s An Evening of Farces will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday with two one-act farces: Peter Shaffer’s “Black Comedy” and Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound.” Each show has a different director as well as a different cast of actors. 

Farce is a type of theater that was developed in ancient Greek and Roman theaters, but it officially got its name in the 15th century in France. Farce aims to entertain the audience through exaggerated, and often humorous, situations. 

Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound is a play within a play. It tells the story of two theater critics watching a murder mystery and enthralled by the play. The show is directed by Krista Neumann, who said she has never directed a farce before.

“What has been different for me is finding out how long it actually took me to figure out what’s going on,” she said. “With all the twists and turns that a farce takes, especially the one I’m directing. I read this play five times until I really figured out who did it and who was who in the play.”

Shaffer’s Black Comedy tells the story of a blackout in London. Brindsley Miller, a sculptor, must accommodate all of the people that come to his apartment during the blackout, including his fiancée, ex-girlfriend, and a millionaire art buyer. Director Tara Acton said the show has presented its fair share of challenges. 

“Farces rely on suspension of disbelief from the audience, so we have to pay special attention to timing and cues, making an unbelievable situation believable,” she said. 

During the show, when the lights are up onstage, it’s a blackout for the characters. When the lights are down, then they are in the world of the play. 

“Part of the fun is working under a reversed lighting scheme,” Acton said. “So in addition to dealing with the usual challenges of farce, we have to constantly stop and question how the actors could believably [and humorously] get from one place to another and interact with each other in total darkness.”

Robyn Calhoun plays Miss Furnival, the spinster who lives upstairs in Black Comedy.  Miss Furnival comes downstairs to Miller’s apartment after the blackout and gets thrown into the mess with the other characters from Miller’s life.

“Staging a farce is always an interesting process. The illusion of chaos requires precise staging,” Calhoun said. “It’s almost choreography.” 

Because a farce is exaggerated experiences on stage, the directors as well as Calhoun said they hope to make the audience laugh. 

“It’s just a silly, funny, entertaining evening of farces,” Neumann said. 

An Evening of Farces, Peter Shaffer’s “Black Comedy” and Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound"
Where: Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Feb 15
Admission: $12-$27

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