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Don’t Be Afraid to Laugh at Safe, a Dark Comedy in Smithfield That Should Be Savored

What happens when a bank robbery ends with five ordinary people — three employees and two customers — locked in the vault? Or are these people ordinary?

The Neuse Little Theatre of Smithfield, NC’s current production of Safe by Tony Glazer and Anthony Ruivivar offers one possible scenario. The play is billed as a “dark comedy,” and the action of the script is, indeed, alternately dark and comic.

As the initial shock wears off, the characters address the dangers that they face. How long until help arrives? Or will it? Are they prisoners? Or hostages? Do their captors intend to kill them? Is this vault air-tight? If so, how long do they have until they run out of air?

Then there is the issue of food and water. To complicate matters, one member of this group has been injured and must be tended to.

What about the obvious “call-for-help” solutions? Does nobody have a cell phone? Won’t that security camera alert somebody to the situation? The script rules out both rather handily, taking full advantage of the comic possibilities. The “Can-you-hear-me-now?” sequence is farcically comic. And the “I’m-right-here” bit is also cute.

And, of course, there will be a point at which friends or family miss these people. But how long until that happens? Or will it?

Bank manager Feliz (Ellen Walsh) takes the just-stay-calm approach to their plight, and Walsh’s even-handed performance is appropriate. Sabina, the air-headed teller, goes to the opposite extreme, reacting to every issue with what could only be described as “manic panic.” The script clearly intends this character to be silly, and Hallie Hulse Evans delivers.

Then we have Ryan (Michael Southern) and Truss (Daniel Ruffino) — let’s just say that these two have a “personality conflict” that affords moments of both comedy and melodrama. And Mike Rumble, as Oakley (the injured security guard), gets laughs with his dazed-and-confused routine.

There is something rather clichéd about all of these characters, but that just adds to the comedic silliness.

Director Matt Gore also designed the set; and it is a masterful reproduction of the inside of a bank vault, complete with functional doors and drawers. Gore and fight choreographer D. Anthony Pender have deftly guided the actors through the physicality required by the script.

The Department of Picky-Picky wants to acknowledge that dark comedy is difficult to pull off. The genre encourages “an exploration of the dark side of human nature,” and audiences often fail to give themselves permission to laugh at the comedic elements (probably because doing so makes them feel guilty). This was very much the case with the performance that I attended on Saturday night. I frequently found myself to be among a very few people laughing (and sometimes the only one).

Such a reluctance to laugh inevitably saps energy from the cast. So, please relax and enjoy the ride.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 16th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/02/neuse-little-theatres-safe-is-a-well-acted-wild-ride/.

Neuse Little Theatre presents SAFE at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23, in “The Hut” (the former American Legion Hut), 104 S. Front St., Smithfield, North Carolina 27577, at the corner of Front St. and U.S. 70 Business (Market St.).

TICKETS: $13 in advance and $15 at the door (cash or check only).

BOX OFFICE: 919-934-1873 or neuselittletheatre@gmail.com.

SHOW: http://www.hometownheritage.com/neuselittletheatre/nextshow.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/220236628925070/.

2018-19 SEASON: http://www.hometownheritage.com/neuselittletheatre/2018-19brochure.pdf.

PRESENTER: http://www.neuselittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NeuseLittleTheatre, and https://twitter.com/neuselittlethtr.

VENUE/MAP/DIRECTIONS: https://www.mapquest.com/.

OTHER LINKS:

Safe (2003 Off-Broadway dark comedy): https://www.samuelfrench.com/p/5330/safe (Samuel French, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/2824 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Tony Glazer (playwright and screenwriter): https://www.tonyglazer.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/20914 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3723066/ (Internet Movie Database).

Anthony Ruivivar (playwright): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/20915 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0749570/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Ruivivar (Wikipedia).

Matt Gore (director): https://www.facebook.com/matt.gore.794 (Facebook page).

REVIEWER:

Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Reviews