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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

I can’t tell a ‘White’ lie: HTG production too long

Published: December 3, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

The Hillel Theater Group’s production of Peter Shaffer’s “The White Liars and Black Comedy” was uneven and too long, with a few stand-out moments of hilarity.

The audience was presented with two one-act plays that dealt with the concept of truth and the evasion of it. Two for the price of one. Unfortunately, the first act, though it had a few amusing scenes, simply wasn’t funny.

The set-up is that two friends, Frank and Tom, visit a fortuneteller’s shop. Frank convinces the fortuneteller, a Baroness of the Holy Roman Empire, Sophie, to tell Tom that if he pursues Frank’s girlfriend, something terrible will happen. As Sophie discovers that not all is at it seems with the two friends and that they have enmeshed themselves in a web of lies, the situation becomes more and more absurd. Sophie, along with the audience, discovers that the truth is not as easy to learn as it first appears.

The concept is interesting, but it relied too heavily on character monologues. Monologues can be funny, but they rely heavily on the skill of the actors. All three of the actors had funny scenes, but their performances were generally all over the place.

An element that distracted from any amusement that could be found in the monologues, was the characters’ accents. Sophie (Yoanna Freedman ’11) had an affected thick Austrian accent that made it difficult to understand what she was saying, Frank (Levi Squire) slipped in and out of a faint British accent and Tom (Aaron Berke ’12), the most convincing of the three, had more of an Australian than Yorkshire accent.

Now, accents in comedies don’t have to be realistic, but accents shouldn’t be the sole source of amusement.

The tone of the play was also extremely uneven. Comedic scenes would be followed by awkward moments of tension. Tom and Frank would stare at each other silently with uneasy suspicion, which also left me uneasy—is this supposed to be funny?

That’s the question that I kept asking myself throughout the first act.

Freedman got some laughs from her performance; in fact, her presence often alleviated the melodrama in many of the scenes. Whenever Tom or Frank revealed another lie, her shock and disapproval was amusing to watch. Squire’s take on Frank, contorting his body into awkward, tense angles, was interesting to see, though, sometimes his performance felt forced. Berke also had a funny moment when he scrunched his face into a befuddled expression as Sophie told him his fortune.

The first play dragged on and I was glad when it ended.

“Black Comedy,” in contrast, was refreshing, funny and clever. A sculptor prepares to receive a multi-millionaire art collector at his apartment in order to try to sell him a few of his pieces. The hitch in the evening is that the lights in the apartment have gone out. As more and more invited and uninvited guests arrive; like his snobby fiancé’s gruff father, busybody neighbors and an old flame—several truths are brought to light in the dark.

A neat conceit, the play had reverse lighting; when the stage was lit the characters couldn’t see. This allows the audience to witness how a motley cast of characters conduct themselves when they think that no one is watching.

Herbie Rosen ’12 plays the main character Brindsley Miller as the everyman, while everyone around him has absurd quirks like his neighbor Miss Furnival’s (Sarah Pace ’13) warbled voice and prudish manner that clash with her new-found discovery of alcohol or his militaristic father-in-law (Marc Eder ’12)—he is seemingly the most normal. Yet, as Rosen staggers around the apartment in a witty take on physical slapstick humor, trying to maintain several lies at once—the audience learns that Miller’s gee-shucks appearance is an illusion.

While I enjoyed “The Black Comedy,” as the whole production approached three hours in length, I was restless near its end. I cannot tell a white lie. The two acts together were clunky and too long—I laughed at some scenes, but the uneven tone and varied quality of the performances left me unsatisfied.