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  • Reverend James Squire

Black Comedy




I have seen many plays and musicals, some of which reflect the times during which I am living. It is interesting to me that a play that I remembered from years ago became part of my thinking as I was reflecting on world events that darkened the skies of humanity casting a pall over parts of our global village. It is Black Comedy, a one act farce by Peter Shaffer first performed in 1965. It is a play utilizing light and darkness in a unique way.


The last week found us seeing the darkness that is experienced each day by the atrocities that are occurring in Iran. We learn of a woman bludgeoned to death for her failure to wear traditional Muslim garb. Others have been arrested for any form of protest, and the Iranian soccer team that was recently defeated by the USA is afraid to go home because of their protest of the Iranian government that will not tolerate dissent.


China is in the midst of the darkness of quarantining its people en masse in their attempt to stop the spread of COVID. People have been sequestered for months and cannot leave their homes. Our American infectious disease experts indicate that the heart of the problem is that their vaccines are inferior but they will not ask for help from the West because that could be seen as an admission that their scientists have less knowledge than ours. Protestors have taken to the streets declaring a desire for democracy and for the end of their current form of government. The Chinese people are under constant surveillance because of the advanced technology to follow their citizens from place to place.


Two days ago we learned that the Russians have made LGBTQ people illegal and subject to fines and imprisonment. Russia is suppressing their voice. The only viable choice seems to be leaving the country that is their home.


In our country, Merrick Garland indicated that finally the bad water for the people of Jackson, Mississippi will be addressed after years of darkness of its citizens, largely black and poor, being unable to get pure water from their faucets when the rest of the country takes that for granted.


Good and evil are often portrayed as the battle between the light and the darkness.


We had a terrific director of theater at EA who exposed our students and the rest of us to a wide variety of plays and musicals, some known and some unknown to the general public including me. I had never heard of Black Comedy. The premise of the play is that light and dark are reversed. When the stage is lit, the cast is supposed to be in darkness and only when the stage is dark are they supposed to be able to see each other and their surroundings.


The narrative is about a young sculptor and his fiancée who have borrowed expensive furniture from a neighbor’s place without permission to impress an elderly millionaire art collector. The power fails and the neighbor returns early, and other people arrive unexpectedly, which creates a comedy of chaos.


The overall theme is when the stage is dark, they supposed to be able to see each other and their surroundings. You can hear the characters attempting to communicate and move around tripping over furniture in the darkness. When the stage is lit, they pretend that they are in darkness and walk around with seeming ease. It is a reversal of a style of living with light and dark.


What dawned on me in terms of the oppression in China, Iran, and Russia with people attempting to communicate tripping over the darkness of oppression is that you can see the oppression more so with your heart, soul, and mind when you see it in the light of the freedom of democracy. The oppression is even more obvious in the contrast.


In days gone by we took a picture with a camera and received the negative that has to be processed to see the positive or final picture clearly before us. It too is a reversal of what is negative needs to be developed to see the picture viewed in the light.


I hope that others who are viewing the recent current events of oppression in those dictatorial countries can see more clearly the freedom that we enjoy in the light of democracy that we take so much for granted.


Perhaps good and evil are expressed best by a consideration of the contrast of light and darkness. Peter Shaffer’s play gives the viewer a new appreciation of when light and dark are reversed. During the play the viewer yearns for a return to the normal expressions of light and darkness that are found most clearly and helpful. It is that yearning for the light, a city on a hill, that is the heartbeat of our nation and the ethical life. Without that yearning and light before us, we are in are a constant state of tension watching the characters interact so that we can “see” more clearly how they are trying to overcome the darkness and hope that someone will switch on the light as the tension builds.


Each of us must always be searching for that light switch for we know that evil and darkness will never completely disappear. It has been there for us since we were thrown out of the garden and must live in a world that is “East of Eden.”

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