When Darkness Falls

Three con men are trying to get hold of a doll stuffed with $50K worth of heroin.  They believe the doll to be in the possession of a photographer and his blind wife and believe the wife will be an easy touch.  But they’re about to discover how blind that assumption is.  This is Frederick Knotts’ Wait Until Dark and it is currently playing at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre.

Knotts has a real gift for crime drama.  His scripts tend to build slowly to create delicious tension as the plot works its way up brick by brick and then having the hammer drop when the tension is at its peak.  This play is no exception to that rule, but it also has a terrific thrust and parry as the three con men trade off control of the situation with the blind woman until the final, epic confrontation where only one will win.

Jean Meachum’s direction is quite admirable.  Due to the con game, this play is quite talky, but Ms Meachum prevents the play from being static by having the actors constantly moving about the stage, physically representing the ever present tension of the situation.  She has also guided her thespians to solid performances and I loved the staging of the piece, especially the fact that the three con men tend to always be in the room with their blind target as their facial expressions and actions show how easy they think their victory will be.

Strong supporting performances are given by Ryan Drew as “Sgt. Carlino” and Libby Matthews as Gloria.  Drew is so natural and extemporaneous as the not so mentally swift con man who constantly wipes off his fingerprints.  Ms Matthews is perfectly bratty as the obnoxious child who lives upstairs, but proves she’s got a good heart when real danger threatens.

Colonsay Selby gives a stunning performance as the blind Suzy Hendrix.  Ms Selby excellently conveys Suzy’s blindness with a thousand yard stare and never making eye contact with the other cast members.  She also does it physically as her movements show that she is familiar with her apartment, but not overly so.

Ms Selby’s acting is also top quality as she well communicates the helplessness Suzy feels as she is still not used to her blindness, but also summons the grit, courage, and brains needed to survive this dangerous game with these 3 criminals.

David Shewell brings intelligence and smoothness to his portrayal of “Mike Talman”.  This is a man who knows how to get what he wants from his marks and prides himself that he doesn’t need to resort to violence to get it.  Shewell’s velvety rich baritone makes it easy to see how women (his usual targets) are taken in by him.  But Shewell also gives a kernel of decency to his con man as he relents from using his obvious physical advantage over Suzy when she is at his mercy.

Joe Caronia is downright terrifying as “Mr. Roat”.  Caronia’s “Roat” brims with confidence and you always have the sense that he is one step ahead of everybody else which allows him to take control of any situation.  But what’s so spooky about him is how soft-spoken he is.  All of his quiet words are tinged with an edge of menace that should put anyone he speaks to on guard.  Justifiably so, as Caronia is such an awesome physical specimen that there is little doubt that his “Roat” could inflict great damage when the whim strikes.  I also enjoyed Caronia’s versatility as he plays a couple of characters as part of the con who are night and day different from the menacing “Roat”.

The program lacked a credit for set design, but it was a splendid construct which had the look and feel of a basement apartment.  The props of Sarah Oldham and Ernie Snyder really made the set seem like a real home.

There were a few line bobbles in the night’s performance and pacing and cue pickups needed stepping up to add to the play’s crucial tension.  That being said, it didn’t put a damper on this thriller especially in the electrifying finale.

Wait Until Dark is an exciting nailbiter and it will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Get a box of popcorn and ready your spine for tingling.

Wait Until Dark plays at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre through Oct 1.  Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children.  For tickets, contact the theatre at 816-637-3728 or visit www.sobtheatre.org.  Parental discretion is advised for this show.  The Slightly Off Broadway Theatre is located at 114 N Marietta St in Excelsior Springs, MO.

Charming and Challenging Sabrina Fair Amuses and Educates

Sabrina Fairchild, daughter of the chauffeur of the powerful Larrabee family, has returned home (a beautiful courtyard designed by Joey Lorincz) after a 5 year stint in Europe.  Her purpose in coming home is to find out if she is in love with David, the younger son of the Larrabees, but meets her intellectual equal in the Larrabees’ older son, Linus.  The journey to find which son will win her heart is the central plot of Sabrina Fair opening tomorrow at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

On the face of it, it seems a rather simple story, but Samuel Taylor’s script is actually a complex, sophisticated piece of work for the early 1950s.  Taylor bravely challenges the social strata of his day with his writing.  He lived in a time where the rich had their domain, the common people had theirs, and never the twain would meet.  Women were relegated to a secondary status, expected to marry and kow tow to their husbands.  That Taylor would take on this class system and that he would do it through the voice of a strong woman was certainly a bold and daring move.

Taking this message and communicating it in a non-preachy, entertaining way is a difficult task, but director Sonia Keffer does an admirable job doing just that with her well balanced cast.  Ms Keffer’s direction paints a vividly multi-layered picture that is charming, sweet, thought provoking, even a little melancholy.

Mary Trecek is splendid in the title role of Sabrina Fairchild.  Described as shy and mousey before she appears on stage, Ms Trecek’s Sabrina is anything but as she roars onto the stage with a lovely energy and confidence, showing how much the character has been transformed by her 5 years away.

Ms Trecek has created one of the most well rounded characters I have seen on stage in quite a spell.  Her Sabrina is caring, thoughtful, a romantic.  In short, she has the best qualities of the ideal woman of that era.  But she is also intelligent, strong, confident, and determined.  Sabrina wants to live life on her own terms and infect people with the same zest as she possesses.  Yet, in a profound moment, she realizes, “I’ve changed over the past 5 years, but the world hasn’t”.  It doesn’t dampen her faith, but she realizes that she cannot force the world to go on this journey with her.  All she can do is leave the door open and hope the world will follow.

I can’t remember the last time I was so completely blown away by a performance as I was with Will Muller’s interpretation of Linus Larrabee, Jr.  The trick with Linus is that he is a bit of a prick, but has a heart of gold.  As the force behind the successful Larrabee empire, Linus is a guy who does what he pleases and does not care what the world thinks of him.  But he is also fiercely loyal to his family, will do what he believes to be right, and actually is looking for love.  He’s just so used to having to be strong that he doesn’t know how to be vulnerable.  Muller brilliantly walks that tightrope of Linus’ character and expertly peels off Linus’ layers until we see the real man underneath and he does it all with a sardonic half-smile that says more about Linus’ views on life than the dialogue.

Phyllis Bonds is given a remarkable opportunity with the role of Julia Ward McClintock.  I suspect “Aunt” Julia serves as the voice of Taylor himself.  Having been reared in the world of the wealthy, Ms Bonds’ Julia is the character who notices that the times are definitely changing and that the world should not adhere to the class system that it embraced at the time.

Tonight’s performance showed that Ms Bonds has certainly laid the groundwork for a masterful bit of acting.  Julia has some of the best dialogue in the play with her witty zingers and observations and Ms Bonds certainly had a grasp on that wordplay, but she needed a bit more zip to her verbal pitches.  Once she cranks it up a few notches, this is going to be one gutbusting performance.

Janet Macklin and Paul Schneider play the heads of the Larrabee family, Maude and Linus Larrabee, Sr.  I believe these characters are meant to represent society’s thinking at the time as Ms Macklin’s Maude, while likable, is most definitely a snob.  Maude definitely believes that the rich and common folk should remain separate and thinks Sabrina has entrapped her dear little David into marrying her after “having a taste of the high life” in Europe.  But, perhaps echoing Taylor’s own hope that society could change its thinking, Ms Macklin also gives Maude an open-mindedness as she is willing to admit that maybe her thinking is wrong and accepts Sabrina once she has decided between her two boys.

Schneider’s Linus, Sr. also demonstrates this belief in the class system as he is vehemently opposed to the idea of his son marrying the chauffeur’s daughter, but is at least willing to let his son choose his own course.  Schneider also does a fine job serving as the play’s comedy relief as Linus, Sr. is quite a bit of a doddering, old man who forgets names, people, and events (even if they occurred only a few seconds ago).  He even has a most macabre hobby in that he enjoys attending funerals.

Larry Wroten’s Fairchild (Sabrina’s father) serves as an amusing mirror image to Schneider’s Linus, Sr.  Through Fairchild, Taylor takes a beautifully satirical shot at society’s mindset because Fairchild also thinks the rich and the common should not mingle because it would be an insult to the commoners.  I thought Wroten’s performance was a bit wobbly, probably due to opening night jitters.  At points he was laugh out loud funny and, at others, he seemed to lose confidence and sureness of his interpretation.  Another night or two and I think the kinks can, and will, be worked out.

Dan Whitehouse brings a boyish innocence to David Larrabee.  Whitehouse’s David is an incurable romantic.  He falls in love at the drop of a hat and has been divorced, at least once.  But he is also indicative of a changing societal mindset as he doesn’t care about finding someone wealthy.  He wants to marry for love, whether that person is an heiress or a humble daughter of a chauffeur.

The night’s performance did have a few flaws.  The pace was sluggish, especially in the first act.  Cues needed to be tighter.  Volume needed increasing and there was some uneven acting in the supporting cast.  With that being said, I have every confidence that these flaws will shortly disappear and this lighthearted, but deep, comedy will fulfill the great potential it presented tonight.

Sabrina Fair plays at the Bellevue Little Theatre from May 1-17.  Showtimes are Friday & Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  The Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission in Bellevue, NE.  Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and TAG members, and $9 for students with a valid student ID.  Reservations can be made at 402-291-1554 between the hours of 10am-4:30pm Monday-Saturday.

Sabrina Fair to Close Season at Bellevue Little Theatre

Sabrina Fair by Samuel Taylor

Show dates:  May 1-17, 2015

Showtimes:  7:30 pm Friday and Saturday; 2pm Sunday

Reservations are strongly recommended and may be made by calling the theatre at 402-291-1554 on Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4:30 pm.  Tickets cost $15 ($13 for Seniors & $9 for students.)  The Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Set on Long Island in the 1950s, Sabrina Fair deals with the involvement of a very rich family named Larrabee with Sabrina Fairchild, the daughter of their family chauffeur. She is bright, well-educated, and has just returned from five years in Paris, where she has done a brilliant job as an executive in a U.S. government overseas office. She has come home to find out if she is still in love with the younger Larrabee son, David.

Cast:
Phyllis Bonds-Julia
Janet Macklin-Maude
Will Muller-Linus
Paul Schneider-Larrabee
Dan Whitehouse-David
Debbie Bertelsen-Margaret
Brandy Howell-Gretchen
Mary Trecek-Sabrina
Larry Wroten-Fairchild
Simon Lovell-Paul
Also featuring: Allison Davis, Abby Dickson, Manuel Marquez

Sonia Keffer-Director
Mark Reid-Stage Manager
Robin Klusmire-Producer