October 25, 2019
Tallgrass proves that live performance of ‘Wait Until Dark’ is best
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Good theatre companies understand that their success depends upon finding and building upon their niche in a region’s theatrical landscape. Tallgrass Theatre Company has exceled in this, presenting captivating theatrical fare in a space they have branded as their own. Regular patrons to Tallgrass shows understand the immersive appeal of the Rex Mathes performing hall. First-timers will be pleasantly surprised in experiencing this creative environment. It creates an alluringly thin “fourth wall” between performers and audience. Wait Until Dark opens the 2019-2020 season with edge-of-your-seat suspense, bringing the magic of live theatre to breath-taking levels.
Wait Until Dark is Frederick Knott’s 1966 play that Robert Carrington and Jane-Howard Carrington turned into the screenplay for the 1967 film by the same name. That film, directed by Terence Young and produced by Mel Ferrer, left an indelible mark on its audiences, finding its way onto many “Best of” lists. The all-star cast was led by Audrey Hepburn as a young blind woman, coping with a violent criminal (Alan Arkin) searching for some drugs, Richard Crenna as another criminal, and supported by Jack Weston, Julie Herrod and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. The stage version of this taut story perhaps raises the experience to an even more impactful level. Another of Knott’s plays, Dial M for Murder, solidifies his gift for this genre of stage thriller.
Anchoring Tallgrass’ Wait Until Dark is one of the region’s best female actors, Maggie Jane Tatone. Her portrayal of the complexly layered Suzy Hendrix is compelling. Tatone masterfully radiates Suzy’s vulnerabilities, her strengths, her defiance and more. She builds a believable character who provides the necessary tangent through which the story moves. Countering Tatone’s Suzy is Oliver Thrun as the nefarious Roat. Bent on one goal, Roat will stop at nothing to achieve it. Thrun instills a measured wickedness into his role, although edging towards the melodramatic at times. He still brings his Roat to a fine crescendo in the final sequence as he works on completing his primary rule: leave no witnesses. Suzy attempts to equalize the field by taking out the breakers, darkening all of the lights in the apartment, yet the devious Roat finds a way to thwart her.
In a smaller, but very memorable, role is Amaya Veldkamp as Gloria, the next-door neighbor child who helps Suzy with errands. This is one talented fourth-grader, who gives an appealing sass to her Gloria. Add Roat’s henchmen, Josh Sampson (Mike) and Sam Sides (Carlino), each adding a little levity to the dark story, and Suzy’s husband, Sam Hendrix (solidly played by Ryan Schmitz), plus the two patrolmen at the end of the show (Daniel Haymes and Adam Beilgard). Director Mark D. Littlejohn created a fine cast to work with a challenging script, which lies in the pacing of Knott’s dialogue. The flow needs to ebb and flow in long, sustained arcs. This production came admirably close to achieving that connectivity, producing an entertaining thriller. The lyrical flow, connecting dialogue streams and building layering take patience before fully appreciating the payoff in the final action of this show.
Ronnie Wells conjures another masterpiece in scenic design, detailed and giving Littlejohn a solid setting in which to work the script’s precise actions. The sound design had some inconsistencies. The pre-show, intermission and scene-changing lighting helped maintain the growing tension of the story. This production of Wait Until Dark delivered a strong, suspenseful drama, complete with requisite gasp-inducing moments and an ending as satisfying as the best of noir stories. If you’re last to leave, turn out the lights – we’ll wait.
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