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A cat-and-mouse game

Preview: Wait Until Dark at Lakewood Playhouse

Wait Until Dark poster designed by James Stowe. Photo courtesy Lakewood Playhouse

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Lakewood Playhouse opens its 2017-2018 season with the classic thriller Wait Until Dark, one of the most suspenseful plays ever mounted on stage. The play by Frederick Knott was first performed on Broadway in 1966. A film version starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkan was released the following year, and it has been revised on Broadway and performed in community theaters repeatedly ever since.

Lakewood Playhouse calls it a cat-and-mouse game. Susy Hendricks (Deya Ozburn) is blind, but has learned to get along quite well without eyesight.  She and her husband (Sam Ben Stahl, recently seen as the monster in New Muses Theatre's Frankenstein) are threatened by a trio of potential killers, but in the dark, Susy has the advantage on them.

"The play is a tight, one-room thriller with a detailed story and complicated mechanics, and working on it really keeps you on your toes," said director James Venturini. "And the ending, when played truthfully, is extremely harrowing."

Venturini says that he was attracted to the script because the characters are complex and interesting, and not stereotypes or caricatures. "It's not a mystery, but more of a suspense thriller, so you're not pursuing a solution, but a resolution, and it has some interesting twists." He says he saw the film when it first came out and again about two years ago, and likes the play better.

Ozburn, who does the lion's share of the heavy lifting in this drama, says her character, Susy, lives a life "not quite as posh as Laura Petrie, but not far from the mark, in essence," even though she is totally blind. "It's a very psychological thriller," Ozburn said. "For one of the men: it's a game ... like a cat playing with its food before he kills and eats it. The other two are more grifter-style in approaching the con, but all have at her in their own way, and though for great parts of time she could easily escape and get out of there ... she doesn't. She stays, and defends her home and person, finding out what her true potential really is ... it's a whole ‘hero's journey' in a basement, really." And she triumphantly added, "And written for a woman. In 1966. How great is that?"

Jed Slaughter plays Mike, one of the trio of bad guys. He says, "One of the things that appealed to me was that it would allow me to play a different sort of character from my most common archetypes: the nice guy and the comically misogynistic jerk. While my character, Mike, is generally the ‘nice guy' of the trio of criminals, he's still ultimately a con artist trying to swindle a blind lady. When I read the script leading up to auditions, Mike was definitely the character who most appealed to me. He gets a chance to really evolve over the course of the show in how he views and interacts with the other characters that surround him. It's also great fun to convey two different intentions simultaneously, as we're often voicing one thing while being free to completely contradict ourselves visually, taking advantage of Susy's blindness."

Rounding out the cast will be Mari Dowd, Kerry Bringman, Lakewood Playhouse artistic director John Munn, and Travis Martinez.

Ozburn sums up her assessment of her character, Susy, by saying, "It is not her lack of sight which dooms her and makes her a stereotypical victim. It is her intellect and sense of fight that we are watching and rooting for. Yes, she is battling three men who are constantly at a physical advantage, but they mistake the situation and unmask their own folly by underestimating someone's ability to thrive and survive with any kind of limitation."

Wait Until Dark comes with a parental advisory. It contains scenes of psychological horror and intense action. There will be special showings Sept. 14 (Pay What You Can Night) and Sept. 21 ("Pay What You Can" Actor's Benefit).

Wait Until Dark, 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 8-Oct. 8, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, $20-$26, 253.588.0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org

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