A 1966 thriller, with timeless appeal.
by Bruce Goodrich Westminster Community Playhouse has had great success with producing classic thrillers, and this industrious and popular theater company’s patrons have come to expect this sort of genre, from season to season. And, there’s nothing like experiencing a good thriller! “Wait Until Dark,” written by Frederick Knott, is a prime example of the genre, and has been revived very often, since its Broadway premiere, in 1966. Mr. Knott wrote the equally popular thriller, “Dial M for Murder,” which was also made into a successful film (1954), and also produced successfully at WCP, in 2018.
Other WCP produced classic thrillers, over the past five seasons, include “The Sound of Murder” (1960), “Murder Runs in the Family” (2001),”A Murder is Announced” (1977, based upon Agatha Christie’s 1950 novel) and one of the creepiest, “The Bad Seed” (1954). Wait Until Dark’s consistent popularity is due in no small part to the film version starring Audrey Hepburn, and the original plays tense, edge-of-your-seat structure, along with a leading female character, Suzy, who, despite being blind, confronts her tormentors head-on.
Suzy, as the plucky protagonist, has not been married to her husband, Sam, for very long and, after an unfortunate accident, has been blind not much longer. Though always a fiercely independent woman, once she learns of her assailant’s plot against her and Sam, she becomes even more independent, getting her husband out of harm’s way, and thwarting her male interloper’s threats, by her own design. It’s one example of a burgeoning concept, at the time, of giving women more individual agency in various roles, in theater, film and television. Over thirty actors auditioned, responding to postings on Instagram and Facebook and in the casting trade publication, Backstage, to fill the 6 roles in the play. Five of the six finally chosen are entirely new to WCP, with one a recent transplant from Philadelphia, who is able to bring some ‘authentic’ East coast regionalisms to the proceedings while, personally, acclimating to the Southern California artistic scene. The plays director, Priscilla Gonzalez-Suciu, who has directed numerous productions for WCP, including “Fuddy Meers”, “Lend Me a Tenor”, “Things my Mother Taught Me” and, most recently, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” says that this has been one of her most challenging, albeit exciting, directing projects.
As part of her detailed approach, she, the cast, and the production team attended workshops in daily living at the Braille Institute of Anaheim, to get an authentic sense of how blindness alters and enhances sensory awareness, as well as dealing with mobility challenges, along with facets of perception.
Early in the process, the actor playing Suzy, Desi Molinari, wore a ‘sleep mask’ during a rehearsal, to get a sense of moving and reacting, without sight. Not only did this tactic intensify Ms. Molinari’s bearing, movement and character, it also affected the other actors as well, in how they interacted with her. The plays 1966 time period, and Greenwich Village milieu, has presented both costume and scenic challenges, in making sure that clothes, furniture and properties, their style and color (a period refrigerator, an avocado green sofa, proper women’s shoes, etc.), are in keeping with a significantly more ‘analog’ era, including the use of rotary telephones, as the act of dialing, particularly if one is in a hurry (and things can get pretty hurried in a thriller), is an ‘antiquated’ activity. Even the mention of easily smuggling drugs through the airport, gives today’s sensibility a full-stop pause. There’s also mention of keeping a watchful eye on a phone booth. Remember those? So, thriller genre aside, there is a sense of nostalgia to the proceedings as characters behave, in 1966, accordingly, to carry out their nefarious schemes and solve their problems, which begs the question, ‘How did we manage, without all the technological ‘stuff’ we have today?’ But, we did, and Suzy definitely manages, in her fearless way, in her time, to triumph against adversity, with chills and thrills in the offing. Westminster’s “Wait Until Dark” promises to be a ‘thrilling’ time at the theater.
Bruce Goodrich is a scenic and costume designer, with many NYC, SoCal and regional credits, as well as being an educator, actor and writer. He is the screenwriter for “Mapplethorpe,” starring Matt Smith, developed at Sundance, and directed by Ondi Timoner.
“Wait Until Dark”
Westminster Community Playhouse
7272 Maple Street, Westminster, CA
September 22-October 8, 2023
(949) 650-5269, www.wcpstage.com