Most trips to the theater do not involve getting good and scared but, then again, most shows aren't Wait Until Dark.
The suspenseful thriller is Studio Players' latest foray into the world of con artists and criminals. Their dangerous tactics end up terrorizing an innocent blind woman and spooking unsuspecting audience members.
Director Bob Singleton excels in a genre often dominated by film. Taking advantage of the intimacy of the Carriage House Theater, Singleton weds chilling performances with anxiety-inducing technical elements to create an evening of nail-biting intrigue.
Playing the thugs who con their way into the home of a blind woman, whom they think unknowingly has a doll stuffed with heroine, Leif Erickson Rigney, Spencer McGuire and Eric Seale set the tone of escalating danger early in the first act.
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Rigney and McGuire establish their characters, Carlino and Mike, as fresh-out-of-jail former con men who get railroaded into their old line of work by Harry Roat, a cutthroat criminal who Eric Seale plays with cold, towering charisma, sinking his teeth into the role of villain.
A truly bad bad guy, Roat orchestrates an elaborate con to coerce Susy Hendrix (Sharon Sikorski), a woman recently blinded in an accident, to hand over a drug-filled doll that her husband inadvertently picked up at the airport. With her husband away on business, Susy's disability gets exploited as the trio pose as cops who suggest her husband might be involved in a murder. Susy believes them, at first, but begins to get wise to their ploy. With the help of a spunky neighbor girl, Gloria (played with attitude and humor by Kelsey Waltermire), Susy turns her disability into an advantage, cleverly booby-trapping her adversaries.
Sikorski deserves particular praise for her performance as Susy. Not only does she emotionally deliver the goods as a victimized woman who bravely takes matters into her own hands, her sense of physical space and blocking mirrors how the visually impaired negotiate their environments. Sikorski has obviously done her homework on the experience of being blind and incorporates her findings into her character's persona with impressive ease.
Sikorski's best moments — and the production's as a whole — come in the riveting, frightful finale, when Susy is forced to defend her home and, later, her life. Her violent struggle with Roat takes the audience on a roller coaster of dark emotions, with primal fear, suspense, desperate bargaining and violence intermingling.
Mylissa Crutcher's lighting design works in tandem with David Bratcher's set to punctuate the brutal emotional tension. When the theater goes dark in anticipation of Roat's return to Susy's house, the audience Friday night fell into an anxious hush. If there is anything more suspenseful than watching actors duke it out on stage, it might be hearing them. Cleverly, the audience is descended into the same blindness that Susy contends with on a daily basis and vicariously experiences her disability.
I won't spoil what happens to Susy, but the end of Wait Until Dark is less important than the totality of the experience. The mission of a thriller is to create escalating anxiety and suspense while leaving the audience a little rattled and thoroughly spooked, and Wait Until Dark does just that.