MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) – Right away, attention is grabbed.
A man slips into a basement apartment and creeps about. Soon, other man arrives. An assault erupts and quickly stops when the two realize they know each another. They lie to one another. Soon third man arrives – a stranger who lords over and intimidates the first two because he knows so much about them. The guy has control written all over him.
What’s going on?
Playwright Frederick Knott knows how to start a play to pull in an audience. “Wait Until Dark” is on its way to keeping minds churning.
Helping is the cast of detail-minded director Michael J. Laskowski. The experienced players are tuned in to the atmosphere of crime, tension, suspense, mystery and danger.
The time is the 1960s. A rotary telephone is a clue. The use of chemicals in photo processing is another. Jazz music from around that time in the background is another.
The jazz also suggests the complexity of the play. A tune beforehand is a bit wry – “Sunny Side of the Street.” Tunes from The Dave Brubeck Quartet album “Time Out” played at intermission catch the nimble and tricky aura, notably the famed “Take Five.”
Attic Chamber Theatre is good at such play-making.
This play takes a lot of listening and watching, the knotty complications being a Frederick Knott trademark.
At the center of the story is Susy Hendrix (Emma Foley), a blind woman who is innocently in the midst of international drug smuggling, gone deadly. Here’s the thing: She doesn’t know she’s in trouble.
The audience knows Susy’s predicament. The crooks know it, too. But Susy and her husband and the bratty girl from upstairs have no clue why there is such great interest in a doll that’s gone missing.
The production has a bit of a bonus in the layout of Lucia Baehman Theater at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Fox Cities Campus. The performance space is too large to be a convincing basement apartment, but the audience is close in. There’s a feeling of being right there in the room where three ominous sorts are calculating and manipulating and weedling as they try to get their hands on the doll.
The mastermind bad guy is Harry Roat, Jr., a classic cold-blooded chill maker of stage and screen. His aura is that of a hangman, plus being ruthless and remorseless. Casey Nash portrays him with cool, practiced precision.
Another bad guy is Sgt. Carlino, who is not really any kind of sergeant and a not very smart. He cracks that he graduated from first grade and, to prove it, has trouble counting to four – a bit of Frederick Knott humor. Kevin Riddle grabs onto the role with energy.
The third bad guy, Mike Talman (Johnathan Krautkramer) is so slick that Susy thinks he’s a good guy. He’s a con man, all right, always finessing words and minds to put him in a position to score. Johnathan Krautkramer is a smooth performer, a dashing type, so Susy’s reaction to him fits.
Susy’s husband, Sam Hendrix, makes a key appearance to help tell Susy’s story. Through their byplay, explanations are given about how Susy became blind, how the two became a couple and how Susy is working toward independence as a blind person. Sam’s brusqueness brings reactions from Susy that suggest she’s feisty. Carlton Johnson captures Sam’s Type A aura.
Gloria is the bratty girl from upstairs who likes Sam and is at war with Susy, who she’s supposed to be helping. Gloria constantly makes life more difficult for Susy – and is lippy about practically everything. Eventually, Gloria becomes Susy’s eyes. It’s an important role that can make or break a production. Genevieve Steffel, who will be in fourth grade in fall, jumps right into Gloria’s sass and spirit and makes things happen.
Emma Foley, as Susy, is surrounded by all these complexities and comings and goings of plotting, danger and delinquency. Emma Foley is up to the demands and challenges of the role and has the audience rooting for her.
Side note: By coincidence, another Frederick Knott play, “Write Me a Murder,” is running to July 24 at the professional Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County. The two plays demonstrate Frederick Knott was a master of corkscrew plots. The famed “Dial M for Murder” is another of his popular plays.
Running time: Two hours, eight minutes
Remaining performances: 2 p.m. July 10; 7 p.m. July 12, 13, 15, 16
Creative: Playwright – Frederick Knott; director – Michael J. Laskowski; stage manager – Gwen Saliares; scenic and lighting designer and technical director – John Dalziel; costume design – Emily Westerfield; fight coordinator – Curt Christnot; firsthand/draper – John Roberts; props designer – Benjamin C. Jordan
Cast (in order of appearance)
Mike Talman – Johnathon Krautkrammer
Sgt. Carlino – Kevin Riddle
Harry Roat, Jr. – Casey Nash
Susy Hendrix – Emma Foley
Sam Hendrix – Carlton Johnson
Gloria – Genevieve Steffel
Policeman – Gabriel Hyatt Johns
NEXT: “Cabaret” musical, Aug. 12-14, 18-20.
THE VENUE: Lucia Baehman Theatre is located at 1478 Midway Road in the Communication Arts Center of University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus. It is a 125-seat, somewhat rectangular space. Lined by black stage curtains on each wall, the space serves as a black-box theater. There are no adornments, and the stage and space are adaptable to whatever a production needs for campus and community productions. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays. The center opened in 2009.