Black comedy is a hard proposition to pull off. The genre relies upon alienation, dread and the ever-present threat of violent death to make its most salient--and humorous--points.
At its best, black comedy is a cautionary fairy tale for adults about the very human wolves lurking in the modern-day urban wilderness. Whether abstract or didactic, good black comedy has plenty of laughs to leaven its lacerating social satire.
At its worst, black comedy, with its heightened reality and farcical overtones, is an excuse for poor characterization and sloppy plot structure. Barra Grant's "A Mother, a Daughter and a Gun" at the Court is such a black comedy, a disappointingly unfunny play about the twisted dynamic between a daughter and her mother. The play contains frequent and ear-splitting gunfire as sporadic as its plot, in which an assortment of eccentrics perform increasingly random acts in furtherance of some nameless objective, which remains, at evening's end, the playwright's mystery.
Those involved in the production, including Grant herself, and director Jenny Sullivan, have impressive track records.
However, one of the few operatives to escape the general mayhem unscathed is Don Llewellyn, whose ingenious sets, despite some opening-night glitches in the scene shifts, received richly deserved applause.
Among the seasoned cast, Sarah Ann Morris and Richard Zavaglia manage to transcend their material.
* "A Mother, a Daughter and a Gun," Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Oct. 30. $22. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.