Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wait Until Dark

Playwright: Frederick Knott, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher

Venue:  SaGaJi Theater, Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale Street, Colorado Springs CO.

Running Time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 10 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Sunday, October 25, 2015.

It’s October, and that means a lot of local theater companies go to their dark side.  It’s the horror season, when vampires, zombies, and assorted monsters break out on stages everywhere.  That’s not exactly my cup of tea; fake blood, technical effects, and exaggerated costumes seem more silly to me than scary.

That’s what makes Wait Until Dark the perfect October show for me.  It doesn’t require a vivid imagination; the horror is all too real.  With no special effects and no monsters, Wait Until Dark is scary because it could happen to any of us.  Susan (Jessica Weaver) is a little more vulnerable than most of us (because she’s blind), but we’re all painfully aware that we are vulnerable to a home invasion by determined and desperate bad guys.

Even though I suspect most readers are familiar with the plot, I do not want to give away too much for those who are unfamiliar with the story.  If you haven’t seen the play or the film, Susan, who is alone at home, is the victim of a complicated criminal plot that brings the bad guys into her apartment.  Being blind, she cannot defend herself very well, but it turns out that she can still outsmart some very clever bad guys.

Wait Until Dark has been around for a while.  The play premiered on Broadway in 1966, with Lee Remick in the role of Susan.  It became a successful film in 1967, with Audrey Hepburn as Susan.  Jessica Weaver is following some very capable actors, but she is obviously not intimidated in the slightest by the star power that has preceded her.
Jessica Weaver as Susan.  Waiting.  Until.  Dark.

The role of Susan has special challenges for a sighted actor.  You’re onstage nearly two hours, and you cannot give any clue that you can actually see anything.  You must struggle, bumble, stumble, and bump into set pieces that you would normally avoid.  You must maintain a blank look on your face, not reacting to the people and the action around you.  I somehow think the preparation for this role might well include blindfolding the sighted actor to help her understand Susan’s world.  Before learning a single line, before rehearsing a single scene, Weaver must first master the illusion of blindness.  Few roles require as much physical adjustment as Susan.

So given the challenges and the stars who have played Susan, how did Weaver do?  

Eleven on a scale of  1-10.  Jessica Weaver is off the chart in Wait Until Dark.

Weaver could not have been more blind on the FAC stage if she performed with a blindfold.  She was every bit as vulnerable, as terrified, and as composed in the face of danger as her famous predecessors.  If you haven’t seen Weaver in Wait Until Dark, don’t wait.  Weaver puts on a clinic for all whose dream is to stand on a stage and own an audience.  If that’s your dream, Jessica Weaver is the inspiration you’re looking for.

L-R:  Adam Laupus, Jessica Weaver, Mallory Hybl.  Set by Brian Mallgrave.
Of course, Susan is hardly the only actor on the stage, and to be effective, she must be counter balanced by some heavyweight bad guys.  Adam Laupus (Mike) is the good guy/bad guy. He both befriends and betrays Susan.  Laupus is confident and credible in both roles, and as Susan’s friend, he is genuinely likable.  That likeablity makes his betrayal all the more despicable.  Michael Lee (Roat) doesn’t try to be nice, and he succeeds.  Micah Spiers (Carlino) spends much of his time pretending to be a detective; his constant need to wipe his prints off everything would give him away to all but a blind victim.  Taken together, this trio is as clever and as clumsy as real life bad guys.

There are some spectacular technical aspects to the FAC Wait Until Dark production.  Award winning set designer Brian Mallgrave (Henry Award, She Loves Me, Arvada Center, 2015) is known for his exquisitely detailed sets.  His design for Wait Until Dark is no exception.  It’s a gorgeous set, whether lit by a single light through the window blinds or fully lighted in all its glory.  Susan’s husband Sam (played effectively by Kyle Dean Steffen) is a photographer.  Mallgrave has his black and white photos dressing up the walls of the set.  As if that weren’t enough, however, he gives Sam a darkroom at stage left, complete with fresh prints hanging by clothespins and an antique photo enlarger.  Mallgrave’s obsession with details, however, never sacrifices functionality.  His sets are beautiful, functional, marvelous backdrops that enhance the story.
Antique photo enlarger.

As you might guess, a show called Wait Until Dark might have some special lighting challenges.  You would be right.  Lighting Designer Holly Anne Rawls runs the entire range of lighting for Wait Until Dark, from total darkness to a match flame to a refrigerator light and to full on bright with multiple onstage light fixtures.  Rawls makes the entire stage her lighting playground, and the work she does is, well, brilliant.  Pun intended.

There’s so much to like about Wait Until Dark that I could go on for hours.  Scott RC Levy’s direction is splendid, squeezing every ounce of tension and fear out of the audience.  Benaiah Anderson’s fight direction (some of which occurs in total darkness) is sharp and intense.  Jason Fangio’s authentic costumes define the actors before they deliver a single line.  Mallory Hybl’s shines as Gloria, a teen trouble maker who helps out in the end.  Alex Ruhlin’s sound design includes microphones for the actors, delivering crisp dialog from all.  (It’s noticeable and distracting when actors at the SaGaJi are not miked.)  

For the reader’s sake, though, I won’t go on for hours.  I’ll just recommend you see this gem for yourself.  When you leave the theater, though, you may want to look over your shoulder as you walk back to your car.  You never know what you might find there…just Wait Until Dark


This show has a few profanities, but nothing more than what the kids have already heard on the school bus.  There is, however, some violence that may be disturbing to younger kids.  There is ample free parking at the theater and on surrounding streets. 

This show closes on November 1, 2015.

PHOTO CREDITS:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and Jeff Kearney at TDC Photography.  Photo enlarger:  Ebay.


Pre/Post Show Dining Suggestion

Cheyenne Mountain Resort.
We skipped the brunch menu at Taste (the Fine Arts Center restaurant) and met up with some friends at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort for brunch.  It's about a 10-15 minute drive from the theater via Nevada Avenue.  

It’s expensive ($40.00 per person), but delicious.  Brunch includes all you can drink Mimosa’s, or if you prefer, just have the champagne without the OJ.  The shrimp bowl is pretty special, but I prefer the prime rib carving station.

For special occasions or special friends, brunch at Cheyenne Mountain Resort is our favorite destination.  


Producing Artistic Director:  Scott RC Levy

Director:  Scott RC Levy

Scenic Design:  Brian Mallgrave

Lighting Design:  Holly Anne Rawls

Sound Design:  Alex Ruhlin

Fight Direction:  Benaiah Anderson

Costume Design:  Janson Fangio

Hair & Make-up Design:  Jonathan Eberhardt

Stage Manager: Kaetlyn Springer


Susan:  Jessica Weaver

Mike:  Adam Laupus

Roat: Michael Lee

Carlino:  Micah Spiers

Gloria:  Mallory Hybl

Sam:  Kyle Dean Steffen

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