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Review: Wayside play scares with threats unseen

Eddie Staver III, as Mike, right, keeps Thomasin Savaiano, as blind woman Susy, from discovering Benjamin Reed, as Roat, left, and Jody Lee, as Carlino, in “Wait Until Dark” at Wayside Theatre in Middletown. — Courtesy Wayside Theatre

Thomasin Savaiano, as Susy, left, performs a scene with Eddie Staver III, as Mike, in “Wait Until Dark” at Wayside Theatre in Middletown. — Courtesy Wayside Theatre

By Josette Keelor

Wayside's fall production, "Wait Until Dark," by Frederick Knott, stays with you after the curtain falls. Based on Knott's 1966 stage play and Terence Young's 1967 film, starring Audrey Hepburn, the suspense thriller, set in a New York City basement apartment, uses threats unseen to manifest fear among viewers.

Thomasin Savaiano gives a powerful performance as Susy, a recently blinded Greenwich Village housewife forced to gain control of an already frightening situation when she must defend herself against a team of burglars who expect stealing from a blind woman will be easy money.

As one might guess, it's not that easy.

In fact, there is nothing easy about this play, and its impressive execution is a mark of its director Rebecca Calkin's storytelling abilities, especially noteworthy since this is her directorial debut at Wayside.

Savaiano, playing a blind woman, effectively stares past or through items she seeks to engage, trips over objects in plain sight and, against instinct, ignores others around her as if she is not aware of their presence. Susy earns the audience's sympathy to her situation and admiration for her resourcefulness.

The play begins with two of the burglars, played by Eddie Staver III and Jody Lee arriving at Susy's apartment after receiving an anonymous phone call about a job. When a stranger arrives soon after, they learn he not only has killed a friend of theirs, but easily can frame them for the murder, since in their absentminded curiosity, they've left fingerprints all around the apartment. The stranger, played by Benjamin Reed, calls himself Harry Roat, "Junior and Senior," and he wore gloves the whole time.

Trapped into working for Roat, they agree to search for a heroin-stuffed musical doll, which Roat explains Lisa gave to Susy's husband Sam, on his recent return from Canada, and asked him to bring home with him until she could retrieve it. Roat names his new partners Mike Talman (Staver) and Sgt. Carlino (Lee) -- cover names Roat presumably used for former, probably dead cohorts.

In short order, Roat keeps Sam away from the apartment with a story about a photography gig, while Mike, posing as Sam's former friend, plays on Susy's fears in order to gain her trust.

A series of unlikely but understandable events makes what might have been an easy con job unnecessarily difficult.

When Susy unknowingly arrives home to a roomful of intruders, the immediate consensus among the villains is relief. She can't see them because she's blind, they think. She'll never even know they were there.

Except, she does. They don't escape the notice of her other senses, mainly her vivid hearing, which, whether amplified by her inability to see or by her heightened fear and skills of deduction, serve to aid her more than anyone might have believed.

Her husband, long having practiced a baptism by fire method of dealing with her, seeks to help her become self-sufficient by refusing her aid as often as possible. Even her upstairs neighbor Gloria, a little girl victimized by her classmates for her poor eyesight, takes out her own frustration on Susy.

She might seem an easy victim, but the more elaborate the burglars' ruse becomes, the more easily Susy can see through it.

Lighting by Wes Calkin and set design by Zach Fullenkamp help Susy gain an advantage later in the play, by plunging the set into solid darkness and forcing the audience, as much as the characters, to rely on their other senses to guide them.

As the core villain, Reed steals power by feeding off of the terror of the other characters, but he also impressively switches gears when portraying other personas: Senior, the old man who sweeps into Susy's apartment with accusations of her husband's infidelity; and Junior, who apologizes for the impropriety of his father's actions, with an air of a bashful Woody Allen or Rick Moranis that makes Reed's Junior entirely unrecognizable from the sinister Roat.

As Carlino, Lee fashions himself a calculating police sergeant, who threatens Susy's belief in her husband's ability to prove his innocence.

Staver's Mike is a reluctant villain, efficient at maintaining a charade, but conflicted by a growing respect for his victim and hatred of his actions.

In the role of lonely but pliable Gloria, the talented Natalie Youngblood elicits the play's few tension-relieving laughs while relieving suspense with effortless charm. Vivian Sansoni portrays Gloria in alternate performances.

Rounding out to the story's tone and tension are costume designer Caleb Blackwell, production stage manager Kendra Watkins and sound designer Steve Przybylski, indispensable in a plot so reliant on sound, smell and obstacles.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com


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