Thursday, January 23, 2014

Midland's "Wait Until Dark" struggles with suspense element

review by janet i. Martineau


That's the sound emanating from the Midland Center for the Arts stage floor during performances of the play "Wait Until Dark."

It's part of the action in this suspense drama that finds a blind woman outwitting a trio of bad guys in the darkness of her apartment.

Sadly, that word also applies to the script as well and this production of it.

Dating back to the 1960s, "Wait Until Dark" is today horribly dated with its requirement and suspenseful use of rotary phones, telephone booths and photo darkrooms. It also doesn't help that because of the Audrey Hepburn movie version and the fact that every community theater known to mankind stages it, there is no suspense left unless somehow the director and cast creates a sense of yes, we know what happens next. but our stomachs are churning anyway.

Director Peter Brooks does not do that, unfortunately. Nor does the male trio in his cast. For most of the night the play moves slower than molasses during a polar vortex. Nearly two hours of plodding results in a mere five minutes or so of ACTION.

And, to be honest, the more we see the show  the more holes in its script surface.

That said, there is something to cheer about in this Center Stage Theatre production that concludes its two-weekend run Friday through Sunday (Jan. 24-26) -- the performance of Trena Winans-Bagnall as the blind woman trying to figure out who is good and who is bad and what she needs to do to survive.

Winans-Bagnall has become one of Midland's most durable and dependable actors over the years, be it musical theater or dramatic. And she is terrific in this role. Kept a hawk eye on her, and not once did she give a hint she could see what was before her. She takes one heck of a hard fall at one point, and carefully navigates in the apartment by feeling her way with her hands. Nice performance, with tension provided that transfers to the audience.

Nice job too by Taylor Winslow as the young neighbor who helps the blind woman with everyday chores...and eventually outwitting the bad guys. One minute she is a bratty teen we want to smack and the next an excited kid who really doesn't comprehend the dangers ensuing.

Which leaves us to the guys....Kevin Kendrick as the No. 1 bad guy and Zachary Prout and Chris Krause as his assistants. They are in a nutshell not sinister enough. They are not directed into a performance that chills, that feels dangerous, that makes us queasy even though we know what happens, that permeates the theater.

Fine line because we don't want them over the top either with twirling mustaches. But we need more. Prout also displays a jittery/tremor special effect throughout that we surmise may have meant to display inner rage and danger but comes across more as nervous.

Might have helped too if the play was directed at a faster pace.

And so it goes.

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