It’s rare for one act plays to have any kind of longevity in commercial theatre (or, for that matter, even get an airing in commercial theatre), but two shorts that have apparently stood the test of time are The Real Inspector Hound and Black Comedy, by the English scribes Tom Stoppard and Peter Shaffer, respectively.
Both plays are getting a mounting Nov. 22-31 at Philadelphia, PA’s Wilma Theatre Company, with an opening set for Nov. 29. Cast members are doing double-duty in the two-play evening, directed by co-artistic director Jiri Zizka.
Black Comedy takes place at a party where all the lights go off, and the guests fumble about and cause various disasters. The trick is that the situation is shown in reverse; that is, the one-act begins in darkness and the lights go on in the production, just as they’re going off in the world of the play. Shaffer’s comedy received a 1967 Tony nomination. In later years, his Equus and Amadeus would both win Tony Awards.
The Real Inspector Hound tells of two theatre critics who accidentally become part of the Agatha Christie-style mystery play they’re watching. Author Stoppard’s other works include Arcadia and the soon-to-reach-Broadway The Invention of Love.
Designing the two comedies are David P. Gordon (set), Janus Stefanowicz (costumes), Jerold R. Forsyth (lighting) and Eileen Tague (sound). Castmembers include Jeffrey Bean (the recent Broadway Amadeus), Cheryl Lynn Bowers, Jonathan Bustle, Libby Christopherson, Edmund C. Davys, David Howey, Todd Lawson and Drucie McDaniel. For tickets and information on The Real Inspector Hound and Black Comedy at the Wilma Theater, between Broad & Spruce Streets, call (215) 546 7824.
Also scheduled for the Wilma season:
• Feb. 28-April 1, 2001: Perfect Pie gets served up by director Blanka Zizka. Canadian playwright Judith Thompson’s drama tells of childhood friends reuniting, one having become a wife and mom and the other now a famous actress. Other Thompson plays include Lion in the Streets and White Biting Dog.
• May 16-June 24, 2001: Passion, Steven Sondheim’s last Broadway musical to date, tells of a handsome army captain wooed, and ultimately won, by a gloomy, homely woman. Jiri Zizka directs this somber work by the composer of Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Assassins.
As for the second-stage, Wilma 2 series, two well-received New York solos will make their way to Philadelphia: Velvetville (Jan. 10-14, 2001) and The Gimmick (April 4-15, 2001).
Velvetville which played at OOB’s P.S. 122 in January, features "an array of cheesy black velvet paintings." These artworks, commissioned by Zaloom and featuring such kitschy characters as the Smurfs, trolls and card playing dogs (as well as the obligatory Elvis), occupy one of the arenas in Velvetville's three-ring circus, which promises "breathtakingly cheap special effects."
In ring one, Zaloom's stage is an overhead projector, on which he works a menagerie of puppets made out of food products and "99-cent store junk." Ring two spotlights the velvet paintings, an art form which Zaloom claims is 2,000 years old. Finally, in the third ring, a puppet drama is enacted in which rubber rats play humans and an L.A. bus is represented by a gas mask.
All of the above somehow has to do with a bad dream Zaloom had one night. As for Zaloom, the star of TV's "Beakman's World" -- he’s dressed at each performance in mismatched pajamas and a nightcap.
Performance artist Dael Orlandersmith’s The Gimmick has played at Seattle's A Contemporary Theatre (July-August 1999) and New York Theater Workshop (April 1999). The Gimmick tells of two childhood friends from East Harlem. Together they dream of careers as artists and the elusive "gimmick" that will take them out of their current surrounding into the life they desire. With the help of a kindly librarian, the young girl poet sees a light at the end of the tunnel. Her friend gets his chance through painting, but the siren song of drugs too often pulls him in the wrong direction.
Orlandersmith's past works include Monster and Beauty's Daughter.
For subscription information for the Wilma Theater call (215) 546-7824.
— By David Lefkowitz