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.

Crime Drama to Open Omaha Playhouse’s 91st Season

Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck

August 14-Sept 13, 2015

Absorbing and suspenseful, Mauritius is a fast-paced dark comedy of the thrilling world of philately (stamp collecting). When two half-sisters inherit a potentially valuable stamp collection upon their mother’s death, differing views on what to do with the stamps lead them to risky situations with nefarious characters. Propelled by a tight plot and quick dialogue, Mauritius will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Contains strong language and violence

Tickets go on sale August 4.  Contact the Box Office at 402-553-0800 or toll free at 1-888-742-4338 for details.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Directed by Jeff Horger

Featuring

Jackie – Alissa Walker

Dennis – Will Muller

Philip – Karl Rohling

Sterling – Chris Shonka

Mary – Julie Fitzgerald Ryan

Dishonor Among Thieves

The owner of a dingy junk shop plots to steal back a rare coin that he sold for $90.  His angry, paranoid friend wants a piece of the action, but plans to take far more than the coin.  A recovering drug addict wants to help, but gets more than he bargained for with his two cohorts.  This is the plot of David Mamet’s American Buffalo which kicks off the Blue Barn Theatre‘s 26th season.

This is the most difficult script I’ve ever seen produced.  The characters often speak in fragments with the broken dialogue overlapping each other.  It also requires very intense listening from the audience as the characters never come out and say what it is they plan to do.  It’s hinted at, suggested, and implied.  A work like this requires the best performances from the best actors and needs surefire direction.  Fortunately, that’s exactly what we get as Susan Clement-Toberer’s fabulous staging and directing of a top flight cast make for a intense and satisfying night of theatre.

Martin Scott Marchitto has really outdone himself on this set.  It’s so simple, yet so complex.  The set looks like an ordinary, cluttered basement, yet was designed from scratch.  Throw in the properties from Amy Reiner and you’ve got the perfect setting for a crime drama.

Jerry Longe gives one of the most beautifully underplayed performances of his career as Donny Dubrow, the owner of the junk shop and mastermind of the theft.  Longe’s Dubrow really isn’t a villain.  He’s just slightly shady.  Dubrow clearly doesn’t earn a lot of money from his junk shop, yet always seems to have a roll of cash handy.  As Dubrow, Longe is cool, level-headed, and methodical with a yen for his health which is demonstrated by his fondness for yogurt.  Long also imbues Dubrow with a strong streak of kindness and humanity as he has taken a young drug addict under his wing and is helping him to overcome his demons.

Dubrow desires to steal back a rare coin he sold simply because he’s certain he can get far more money than the $90 he originally received.  Lending credence to his less than villainous nature is the fact that all he wants is the coin.  His only mistake is cutting his friend, Teach, in on the scheme and gets infected by his paranoia.  This error nearly leads to a lethal mistake at the play’s climax, but also permits Longe a beautiful and tender moment of redemption in the end.

Thomas Becker is a wonder as Walter “Teach” Cole.  Teach is a brutish paranoiac who clearly hates his lot in life and believes everyone is against him.  Becker plays Teach with a sensational twitchiness.  The man cannot sit still and constantly moves around like an animal stalking its prey.  It’s almost as if his body can just barely contain it’s seething ferocity.  When he learns about Donny’s plan, he immediately volunteers to help and plan the whole crime.  Teach likes to pretend he’s a criminal mastermind by hiding from police cars cruising by on the street, but his so called plans and failure to think anything through reveal him to be the rankest of amateurs.

Teach’s suspicious nature nearly wrecks everything when he starts to suspect allies as enemies.  When the whole truth of the situation is revealed, Becker’s Teach disintegrates into a temper tantrum that finally removes the mask and reveals Teach as an overgrown child who merely wants to win, just once, in life.

Jonathan Purcell does exceptional work with the role of Bobby.  Purcell paints a haunting picture of a former drug addict struggling to stay clean.  He gives Bobby little tics to indicate his body’s desperation for a hit.  Yet he also gives Bobby a fierce loyalty to Donny as he would do anything to make Donny happy.  Purcell injects some levity into the show as his Bobby is clearly as dense as a brick.  Whether from natural inclination or due to excessive drug use is left to the audience’s interpretation.  When Bobby’s loyalty is called into question, Purcell splendidly adds a sense of tension to the character up until the revelations begin.

A few scenes of violence need some fine tuning to be more believable, but these do not detract from the superlative work of this talented trio.  With acting and direction of this caliber, American Buffalo has all the hallmarks of a major hit.

American Buffalo runs through Oct 25 at the Blue Barn Theatre.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Two Sunday performances will take place on Oct 12 & 19 at 6pm.  Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of ten or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576.  The Blue Barn is located at 614 S 11th St in Omaha, NE.  American Buffalo contains very strong language and a couple of scenes of violence.  It is not recommended for children.