Monday, September 15, 2014

Wait Until Dark—Northwest Classical Theatre—SE Portland


Playing With Fire

This mystery by Fredrick Knott and adapted by Jefferey Hatcher is directed by Bobby Bermea.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave. through October 5th.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwctc.org.

This is a departure for this group, as they usually perform historical plays, mostly Shakespeare.  It was made into a fairly good film a number of years ago with Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna.  The play is a throw-back to the radio mysteries of the 30’s and 40’s (the story is set in the mid-40’s) like Suspense and Lights Out!  Both of these descriptors fit the body of this story (as well as my title, but find that out for yourself).  And, wisely, they begin the play as homage to that era.

The play itself is by no means a terrific mystery, but it does garner enough suspense and tension by the end to be quite thrilling onstage.  And it has a couple of dandy roles for actors, one, a woman who is blind, Susan (Clara-Liis Hillier) and her chief tormenter, Harry (Samuel Dinkowitz), a man of many guises.  Her husband, Sam (Steve Vanderzee), a photographer, is forced to be away until late that night, leaving his wife to deal with her dark world, mostly by herself.  Her only asset is a bratty teen in the apartment building, Gloria (Kate Thresher), who checks on her occasionally.

Barging into her secure, little world comes Mike (Heath Koerschgen), an old army buddy of Sam’s, in town for a visit.  Also, it seems a murder has been committed in the neighborhood, so a local cop, Carlino (Tom Mounsey) pops in on her to see that she is all right.  And there is also the mysterious Harry, who claims that is wife, one of her husband’s models, is having an affair with Sam.  There is also an elusive doll that seems to have some significance to some of these characters.  But to tell any more, being that this is a mystery, would be revealing key plot twists, so no more on that.

As far as the written script, the First Act deals with a whole lot of exposition that has little to do with the immediate situation.  There is also an uncomfortable feeling that a blind person must be trained, like some sort of pet or child, to do for themselves, instead of being treated like an adult, who might see blindness as a challenge, not a handicap, and see the heightened awareness of her other senses, as an asset.  Within the character of Susan, the role is approached this way, but Sam seems to lean more on the trained-seal school of learning.  Just an oddness in the writing that shouldn’t be there.

That being said, the acting is first rate.  Hillier is always good onstage in any role she does.  This is a special challenge for an actor, as the character is blind, and I saw no flaw in her presentation of this.  Also, the anxiety Susan must feel of having been able to see only a few months before, has to be excruciating, and this is evident in Hillier’s interpretation of the role.  And Harry is a dream role (or nightmare, depending on your viewpoint) for an actor and Dinkowitz is a perfect choice for it.  The coolness he exhibits at times in his madness is more chilling than any ranting or raving an actor might do.  Dinkowitz, also, is an actor that always worth watching onstage.

Koerschgen does a good job as the conflicted friend.  Mounsey is also in fine form as the oily cop.  Vanderzee is good in the brief role as the husband.  And an actual teen, Thresher, does show a lot of promise as the neighbor, who follows the arc from being a brat, to a friend, during the course of the play.  The director, Bermea, has blocked it very well, to get maximum use of the stage and the ability to generate suspense in such a small space.  The ending confrontation is particularly well staged (with fight choreography by Dinkowitz).


I would recommend this play but, keep in mind, that it is appropriately intense at times, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.