One third of Christendom now lies under sod,” laments Father Flote at the start of Red Noses, Peter Barnes’ powerful, passionate — and hilarious — comedy about the Black Death. And indeed, things do look grim as the plague rages through France in 1348, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Yet it is from just this despair— rather unlikely material for a comedy—that Barnes has created his remarkable play of love, laughter and hope.
That love, laughter and hope comes in the form of Father Flote and his merry band of Red Noses. While ruthless Black Ravens loot corpses and spread the disease to kill off the rich, and zealous bands of Flagellants try to end the plague through the self-inflicted suffering, Flote— inspired by a divine vision —decides to form “a brotherhood of joy, Christ's Clowns, God's Zanies," and fight despair with joy and laughter.
“Heaven’s to be had with my humiliation,” insists Flote. “I've been chosen to go out to cheer the hearts of men with gibs, jibes and jabberjinks.” To that end, he assembles a jolly troupe of comic misfits, entertainers so wonderfully awful that they probably wouldn't have made it through auditions for the Gong Show. With the blessing of the Pope —who hopes a little laughter will diven attention away from the ever-weakening Church—the Noses set off through the ravaged countryside to bring high, and low, humor to the suffering multitudes.
The Red Noses go on to achieve unprecedented success and popularity, culminating with a wackily triumphant performance of their own very unique version of the play Everyman. But as the plague ends and normal order is restored, the Church and State — returned to their previous positions of power— band together to isolate and crush those groups that now threaten their authority. Suddenly, the laughter provoked by Flote’s troupe is no longer simply innocent, but a symbol of defiance against the establishment, making the Noses a dangerous group to have around.
Red Noses is a glorious spectacle — ambitious, imaginative and wonderfully theatrical —that brilliantly bounces from ribald humor to political satire to heartbreaking tragedy. Filled with music and dozens of jokes that range from good to bad to very bad to truly awful, Red Noses promises to be a tour-de-force for director Jeff Steitzer and a remarkable cast featuring Seattle’s finest talent: Eric Ray Anderson, Laurence Ballard, Kurt Beattie, David Mong, Gretchen Orslund, David Pichette, Michael Santo, Peter Silbert, Tom Spiller, G. Valmont Thomas, Steve Tomkins, David P. Whitehead, Michael Winters and R. Hamilton Wright as Father Flote. With so much talent assembled on ACT’s stage, Red Noses promises to be the theatre event of Seattle's 1989 season.