Spiral's Wait Until Dark

Jul. 30, 2008
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Closing night of Spiral Theatre’s Wait Until Dark was sold out. A small crowd of people piled into the tiny performance space that Director Doug Giffin and scenic designer Mark Hooker had developed for the Frederick Knott thriller. It was set to be Spiral’s final show at Bucketworks. Talking to Artistic Director Mark Hooker, I found out that Spiral may be moving to another city due to issues not at all related to theatre. Mark said that if Spiral did stay in town, they might be looking to buy a new space.

In any case, the space at Bucketworks was reasonably accommodating for the final performance of Wait Until Dark. It was a hot night and the heat carried into the crowded space as Giffin appeared to give the curtain speech. After a brief and congenial introduction, the show started. The opening of the play faded in slowly, allowing for a cursory evaluation of the set, which was solidly constructed for a theatre company with limited funds. The space almost looked lived-in--very impressive for a show that had only been running for a couple of weekends.

The story seeped-in around the edges of the set as Brian Richard and Randal T. Anderson began to set the tone in the role of a pair of ex-cons ho had broken into an apartment I Greenwich Village. Anderson was the rougher-sounding of the two, speaking in a voice that reminded me of a Brooklyn I’d never been to. Richards is a distinctively familiar face, having appeared in an number of shows between Spiral and RSVP over the course of the past few years. Here Richards is the tragic “nice guy” criminal who  probably would’ve ended up in a more honest profession had things gone differently for him. Richards and Anderson have a natural rhythm for their dialogue that fits the familiarity of the characters well. It isn’t easy to construct familiarity between two actors onstage in a way that seems entirely natural, but Anderson and Richards pull I off quite nicely.

With the early elements of the plot established between Richards and Anderson, Matthew J. Patten appears onstage in the role of their employer. Patten towers over everyone else onstage as usual, but here his height really adds something--here he’s playing a savvy, sinister criminal and the height adds a physical dimension to a commanding stage presence. Patten’s mastermind outlines a job for the other two—they must find a doll filled with narcotics that one of the apartment’s residents unwittingly brought with him from a trip out of town.

Of course, the three men don’t find the doll right away and the couple who live in the apartment return home quit unaware of the three men or their interest in the apartment. The couple in question are Sam and Susy Hendrix. Sam (Nate Press) is a professional photographer. Susy (Ruth Arnell) is recovering from an accident that has left her blind. Press and Arnell have a palpable chemistry together that establishes itself early, which is good because it has to. Sam doesn’t end up in much of the play, so he has to make enough of an impression early on that we feel his effect on Susy for the rest of the play. Press does an excellent job of doing this without making his character seem too unduly charming or superhuman. In the role of the heroine, Arnell is probably onstage for longer than any other person. Arnell carries the center of the play with casual, well-executed grace. The plot that rushes over the stage seems a bit awkward and artificial, but Arnell does a breathtaking job of grounding the production in a very sympathetic emotional center.

Gloria Loeding rounds out the cast in the role of the girl from the apartment upstairs, also named Gloria. Loeding is playing a girl far younger than she is, but she’s carrying the role pretty well considering the character comes harrowingly close to being little more than a plot device. Her role in the central conflict of the story comes as little surprise, which probably has more to do with the script than the production.

The only major flaw in Spiral’s final production at Bucketworks was the title noun. The climax of the play is slowly bathed in darkness as Susy confronts the villains on her own terms. Though Hooker did an admirable job with the production’s lighting design, the space at Bucketworks spilled too much light . . . rendering messy, imperfect shades of darkness that felt relatively uncomfortable in the summer heat.

Bucketworks next production is Doubt. It opens September 12 at Plymouth Church.

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