The three Bs of the ’60s, Bond, Beatles and Batman, represented film, music and television. Between the bullets, the babes and the beats and Adam West’s Batusi dance moves, the ’60s was a decade unlike any other. Pop art was king and mainstream culture valued style with substance. A TV in every home tuned into the space race, dance shows and 30-second commercial jingles.
The British farce Not Now, Darling, written by by John Chapman and Ray Cooney, seems so fabulously retro now. In reality, it was just another modern play of the era. But these days, thanks to TV shows like “Mad Men,” “Pan Am,” “The Astronaut Wives Club” and the subsequent wave of nostalgia, audiences are getting a whole new look at that bygone era.
It’s also the perfect choice to finish out Asheville Community Theatre’s 69th season. Despite a history that predates the ’60s, this is the first time the local theater has mounted this production — see it each weekend from Friday, Aug. 21, to Sunday, Aug. 30.
“We had been tossing around [the idea] that it’s of the ‘Mad Men’ era, but we think it’s a tad later in the ’60s because the play premiered in 1967,” says ACT marketing director Jenny Bunn. “The time period absolutely informs the style of this show, most noticeably in the costuming and the hairstyles.”
She continues, “We have a fabulous collection of vintage furs that have been donated to us over the years, and it’s rare that we’re able to use them. That is certainly a style choice that has drastically changed over the past 40 years.”
The show also owes a lot of its style to classic British TV comedies like “Benny Hill” and “Fawlty Towers.” The setting for Not Now, Darling is a fur salon in London, filled with often scantily clad mistresses being shoved into closets. The plot also provides plenty of suspicious wives, missed opportunities and mistaken identities.
“It’s definitely a period piece and a play in which nothing is to be taken too seriously,” says ACT Executive Director Susan Harper. Take the over-the-top tone of the play with a grain of salt; Not Now, Darling was a comedy hit in its heyday. It may be even more so for 2015 audiences, many of whom are not old enough to remember the era.
Bunn, among that population, filters the material through her own frames of reference. “It reminds me of the first Austin Powers movie, when he’s originally unfrozen from the ’60s and still expects the relationships between men and women to be of that earlier era. We all laugh because, thankfully, it’s not that way any longer,” she says. “I think 1960s Austin Powers would have attended opening night of Not Now, Darling in 1967 London and would have absolutely loved it.”
ACT brought back one of its classic directors to take on this stylish show. Ralph Redpath served as the theater company’s artistic director for many years and was an audience favorite. For this journey, nearly five decades into the past, Redpath enlisted a cast of regulars and new faces, including Steve Turner, Cary Nichols, Jerry Crouch, Kristen Livengood, Michael Keene, Heather Ingle, Jorja Ursin, Bruce Gruber, Emily Crock, Rachel Adams and Christian Carmean.
While audiences shouldn’t plumb this play for the spiritual betterment and up-with-people attitudes associated with the end of the ’60s, Not Now, Darling is big on enviable fashion and quick laughs. “Thank heavens you’ve arrived, Mr. Bodley, I’ve been driven out of my mind,” says the beleaguered character Arnold Crouch at one point in the show. To which the cheeky Gilbert Bodley quips, “That must have been a very quick trip.”
WHAT: Not Now, Darling
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre, ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 21, to Sunday, Aug. 30. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. $18 opening weekend. Other times: $22 adults/$19 seniors and students/$15 children younger than 17.