Saturday, September 9, 2017

Wait Until Dark at Lakewood Playhouse

A Whole Lotta’ Actin’ Goin’ On
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Deya Ozburn (Suzy), Mari Dowd (Gloria)   All photos by Tim Johnston 

For their 79th season opener, Lakewood Playhouse chose the genuinely scary and viscerally upsetting psychological thriller Wait Until Dark. If the phrase “fright night” appeals to you, this play is just the ticket. 

As the plot is rather convoluted, the play, set in the mid 60's, spends the first act explaining the set up. As a result, it comes off as a bit tedious, especially compared with what is to come in act two. Since it is a thriller, I can’t tell you much about act two without giving away surprises, but that’s where the thrills and chills are, along with the inevitable deaths this somewhat grisly play serves up.

John Munn (Roat)

Roat (Lakewood’s Artistic Director John Munn) is a genuine bad guy (we know this because, among other things, he wears black) on the trail of a heroin-filled doll that was passed off to an unsuspecting man named Sam (Ben Stahl) at the airport. Sam takes it home to a dark, basement flat in NYC where he lives with his recently blinded wife Suzy (Deya Ozburn). The doll disappears, but when Sam leaves town for work, three shady characters show up to con, search, and bully Suzy into giving up the doll.

Jed Slaughter (Mike)

Roat, the ring leader, has hired two ex-cons, Mike (Jed Slaughter) and Carlino (Kerry Bringman) to help find it. The three men take on various roles in a good guy/bad guy set-up designed to con Suzy into giving them the doll. Their attempts fail, in part due to a somewhat petulant young girl named Gloria (Mari Dowd) who lives upstairs and, at her best, helps Suzy with chores and observations.

Mari Dowd (Gloria) 

With Gloria’s help and eyes, Suzy figures out the con, finds the heretofore missing doll, and hides it. She then darkens her apartment to level the field before Roat, her true adversary and tormenter, returns. It’s a cat and mouse game played out in the dark in which both parties trade off having the upper hand.

The role of Suzy casts Ozburn as arguably the hardest working actor in the South Sound. As the lead, she not only has to constantly play blind, but is put through as rigorous a physical workout as you are likely to see onstage, and a range of emotions to match, from meek and trusting to gutsy and wary, with relieved and terrified thrown in for good measure. It’s a tough role, and Ozburn deserves kudos for her exhaustive work.

Kerry Bringman (Carlino) 

That’s not to diminish the work of the rest of the ensemble, mind you. Bringman, for instance, is charged with playing a role within a role as a small time hood called on to portray a police sergeant.

Interestingly, Ozburn and Munn, the denouement antagonists, have a prior history of playing the bully male and disadvantaged but courageous female, and they work very well together. They brought to mind a recent run of Oliver in which she adroitly played the bullied, eventually killed Nancy to Munn’s abusive lover Sykes.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank two actors, Slaughter (Mike) and Dowd (Gloria), for bringing some much appreciated normalcy to a stage filled with acting extremes. Their convincingly realistic and endearingly understated characters were a welcome contrast to the angst-filled proceedings.  
All this takes place on a set designed by Jonathan Hart with set dressing and props by Karrie Morrison. It was a believable basement apartment in NYC, in spite of a handful of anachronisms and anomalies that true theatre buffs will have no doubt noticed. Costumes by Diane Runkel and Virginia Yanoff were as good as expected, as was lighting by Aaron Mohs-Hale and sound design by the play’s director, James Venturini. In a very physical, action-filled play like this, the fight choreographer, Casey Brown, also deserves a call out.

At its core, this play is all about heart-pounding terror, and while it’s a bit early for our annual Halloween rush, it should be gripping and upsetting enough for any fright fan. 

Wait Until Dark
Sept. 8 to Oct. 8 2017
Lakewood Playhouse

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