WCT illuminates terror in 'wait until dark'
Published May 1, 2018
When thinking of Waukesha Civic Theatre’s putting on “Wait Until Dark,” I considered those thrilling final scenes with Audrey Hepburn’s blind character struggling with a cut-throat gangster in the dark in the 1967 movie. How would this translate onto the stage? Could it be done successfully?
The answers are “wonderfully” and “yes.”
I think a thriller is one of the hardest genres to do on stage, especially in an age when film and TV can heighten the emotion with so many special effects, graphic images and sound.
On stage, there’s no taking it to the editing room to create the kind of terror that perhaps the actors can’t portray. The performers in this show are on their own and, fortunately for WCT, these are some good ones who can convey all the right emotions.
Setting the stage for murder
I found this a totally engaging show from start to finish thanks mostly to a stellar performance by Kaila Rachel Casalino, as Susy, a newlywed, married to photographer Sam (Lloyd Munson), who lost her sight in an accident a year earlier. The story is set solely in the couple’s apartment. This show, more than most, relies on a functional set and props plus well-timed and well-conceived lighting, so a shout-out to the entire production staff, especially Michael Talaska (set), Debbie Volden (stage manager), Scott Fudali (lighting) and Susan Schoultz (props).
The story reminds me of the film “The Maltese Falcon.” As in that film, gangsters are searching something, in this case a doll that contains a large sum of heroin that would fetch a pretty penny on the market. Sam, was given the doll by a woman at a Canadian airport, who said it to go to a young patient in a hospital near his home. Instead, her plan was to steal the doll once it was safely ensconced in the States and make a bundle.
The woman who gave Sam the doll winds up dead outside of Sam’s apartment, the dead done by a cutthroat gangster named Roat (Casey Van Dam). Roat later teams up with Mike (Zack Oliver) and Carlino (Logan Milway) to try to find the doll in the apartment while Susy and Sam are out, but to no avail.
Three against one
There’s a locked safe in the room, which might hold the doll, so the three con men devise a plan that may gain them access to the safe at another time. First, Mike arrives, claiming to be a friend of Sam’s who happens to be in town. He gains Susy’s confidence, so when a man breaks in (part of the trio’s plan) and a detective is called (also part of the plan) she thinks she can trust Mike while Sam is away. The trio’s plan involves casting aspersions on Sam’s fidelity and implicating him in the murder.
The three gangsters hole up in an old VW bus near the apartment, which is next to a phone booth, and communicate by pulling the shades open and closed, which would trigger a phone call. Carlino impersonates a detective, while Roat takes on the roles of an old man and his son, who manufacture a story about Sam and another woman.
Though blind, Susy’s heightened sense of smell, touch and hearing allow her to understand much more of the men’s behavior as they move around her apartment than they realize. She also has a pair of eyes in a young neighbor girl, Gloria (Ella Vitrano), who shops for Susy and helps around her apartment. When alone with Gloria, Susy’s thoughts congeal and she realizes she’s in danger. She sends Gloria off on some missions and prepares her apartment for a showdown with the gangsters.
All performers are well-cast and give their roles believability, but none is better than Casalino, who portrays her blind character wonderfully. Her Susy is smart and spunky. She moves about with the clumsiness of a sightless person, yet exudes confidence that she can take care of herself. It is a marvelous portrayal.
The three con-men also do a good job with their characters. I really liked how Oliver’s Mike character is able to get cozy with Susy as he claims to be a friend of her husband’s. His demeanor turns ugly – yet sympathetic -- when Susy realizes something sinister is going on. It is a well-done transformation on Oliver’s part.
Milway’s Carlino is also nicely portrayed, his hyper con-man character a flurry of activity as he races around the apartment looking for the doll, wiping finger prints, making phone calls.
Van Dam has to take on several characters as he portrays Roat, who then impersonates an old man and his son at Susy’s apartment. His Roat exudes evilness with his sinister tone and superior air. The final scene with Susy in the darkened apartment is masterfully done by both characters, as they each try to outmaneuver the other.
Munson as Susy’s husband, Sam, also does well and pairs nicely with Casalino. Vitrano’s mischievous Gloria is expressive and precocious, adding nicely to the tension in the final scenes.
Even the two policemen, portrayed by Bill Kirsch and Shane Mattox, should be commended for their short service.
If you go:
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: “Wait Until Dark”
When: Through May 13
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukehsa