Classic Thriller On Stage In South Bend

The list of plays written by Frederick Knott is short and sweet. Well, maybe not sweet — all are murder mysteries — but definitely short. The grand total is three. Two have become classics, both on stage and in their cinematic variations.

One — “Wait Until Dark” — opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Aditorium under the direction of Richard Baxer. It strikes a note of fear common to a great many people: fear of the dark. In this case, that fear is exacerbated by the fact that heroine Susy Hendrix (Eva Cavadini) is recently blind, making her easy prey for the trio of criminals who invade her Greenwich Village apartment in search of a doll stuffed with heroin.

She is unaware of the doll’s contents, as is her husband Sam (Jared Roy Windhauser), a freelance photographer, who brought it from Canada as a favor to a woman who asked that he take it to her hospitalized child.

The drama begins with two ex-cons Mike Talman (Tucker Curtis) and Sgt. Carlino (Chad Hoefle) literally bumping into each other in the empty Hendrix’ apartment, both summoned by a letter from Harry Roat, Jr. (Matthew Bell), a stranger to both men who definitely knows a lot about each of them. Roat reveals a plan to retrieve the doll which requires the participation of both men.

The revelation of his detailed plan takes up most of the first scene (each act has three) and hinges on Susy’s blindness which enables the thieves to portray themselves as other than what/who they are. Sam, lured out of town on a bogus assignment, leaves his handicapped wife to take care of herself.

The list of plays written by Frederick Knott is short and sweet. Well, maybe not sweet — all are murder mysteries — but definitely short. The grand total is three. Two have become classics, both on stage and in their cinematic variations.

One — “Wait Until Dark” — opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Aditorium under the direction of Richard Baxer. It strikes a note of fear common to a great many people: fear of the dark. In this case, that fear is exacerbated by the fact that heroine Susy Hendrix (Eva Cavadini) is recently blind, making her easy prey for the trio of criminals who invade her Greenwich Village apartment in search of a doll stuffed with heroin.

She is unaware of the doll’s contents, as is her husband Sam (Jared Roy Windhauser), a freelance photographer, who brought it from Canada as a favor to a woman who asked that he take it to her hospitalized child.

The drama begins with two ex-cons Mike Talman (Tucker Curtis) and Sgt. Carlino (Chad Hoefle) literally bumping into each other in the empty Hendrix’ apartment, both summoned by a letter from Harry Roat, Jr. (Matthew Bell), a stranger to both men who definitely knows a lot about each of them. Roat reveals a plan to retrieve the doll which requires the participation of both men.

The revelation of his detailed plan takes up most of the first scene (each act has three) and hinges on Susy’s blindness which enables the thieves to portray themselves as other than what/who they are. Sam, lured out of town on a bogus assignment, leaves his handicapped wife to take care of herself.

Wait Until Dark South Bend Civic Theatre  INThe only fly in the criminal ointment is Gloria (Erin Joines), an initially unlikable 9-year-old from upstairs. She is supposed to help Susy but instead takes pleasure in tormenting her. Gloria can see.

As the plot unwinds, it becomes obvious that Susy is living up to Sam’s expectations that she is “the world’s champion blind person.” The chilling finale of “Wait Until Dark,” even if you’ve seen it before, is pretty much worth the wait. Like Knott’s other prize-winning mystery, “Dial M for Murder,” however, an awful lot of rather monotonous talk leads up to the frantic duel-in-the-dark.

Joines spices up the proceedings with her deliberately obnoxious taunts which frequently are too extreme. This is the fault of the dialogue however and, in spite of this, she delivers a strong characterization. Windhauser is on briefly as the world’s most unsympathetic spouse.

Cavadini handles the most difficult assignment well, and should receive hazardous duty pay given the large number of bruises and falls she receives in making Susy’s blindness beliveable. She is physically very natural, feeling her way around the basement apartment, and almost incredibly resourceful.

Curtis lives up to his character’s name, Talman and, when working with Cavadini, develops a very genuine and believable connection with his unknowing victim. We see the friendship growing slowly out of the con man’s sense of decency, his affection for Susy and her refusal to consider herself handicapped. In the end, it is his undoing.

wait untiil dark  South Bend Civic Theatre  INHoefle, whose role in Roat’s plot is the unphoned-for policeman, pops the action along as much as possible and avoids being the caricature his dialogue tends to create. He is the weakest of the three cons whose lack of education is constantly apparent.

The decidedly evil master mind, who early on proves he has no qualms about dispatching anyone who gets in his way, is a role Matthew Bell interprets with sinister ease. He is a fine actor but here, in his early endless exposition, becomes so deliberately detached that his intricate outline is less than fascinating, even though the revelation of his cold and calculating character is not.

The apartment created by set designer David Chudzynski is well detailed if a bit too airy. I must admit I doubted the final setting could be accomplished successfully, given the height and width of the stage. I was definitely mistaken.

“WAIT UNTIL DARK” plays at through Nov. 11 in the theater at 403 N. Main Street, South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org

Hyde Quartet Haunts Familiar Jekyll

With Halloween right around the corner, its seems natural that the play of choice for Elkhart Civic Theatre should be a newer take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House.

Penned by Jeffrey Hatcher, the play’s title is “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” There is no need to define it as a “strange case.” That, within the first few minutes, is obvious.

The illness of Dr. Henry Jekyll is, in this context, self-inflicted. Today we would describe him as suffering from a split personality or DID (dissociative identity disorder), a diagnosis increasingly common in this century (and a popular character twist in current daytime dramas).

In the turn of the century England, however, it was seen as dabbling in the dark arts. That much of the original narrative is still in tact.

What has been changed in the Hatcher formulation is definitely off the path of the 132 film versions, not to mention those on stage or TV. There still is only one Henry Jekyll (Brent Graber) but there are four incarnations of Edward Hyde (Colin Rusel, Carl Wiesinger, Tony Venable and Melissa “Missy” Domiano), each of whom also plays one or more additional roles.

The action begins a year after Jekyll has found his personality-splitting formula and is beginning to realize that it may be getting out of hand. Unlike the traditional narratives, he is not in love with a “good girl,” but instead is consumed with exploring the dichotomy of human nature. When asked if he believes in the soul, he is elusive, answering “Man gives names to things we cannot understand.”

With Halloween right around the corner, its seems natural that the play of choice for Elkhart Civic Theatre should be a newer take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House.

Penned by Jeffrey Hatcher, the play’s title is “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” There is no need to define it as a “strange case.” That, within the first few minutes, is obvious.

The illness of Dr. Henry Jekyll is, in this context, self-inflicted. Today we would describe him as suffering from a split personality or DID (dissociative identity disorder), a diagnosis increasingly common in this century (and a popular character twist in current daytime dramas).

In the turn of the century England, however, it was seen as dabbling in the dark arts. That much of the original narrative is still in tact.

What has been changed in the Hatcher formulation is definitely off the path of the 132 film versions, not to mention those on stage or TV. There still is only one Henry Jekyll (Brent Graber) but there are four incarnations of Edward Hyde (Colin Rusel, Carl Wiesinger, Tony Venable and Melissa “Missy” Domiano), each of whom also plays one or more additional roles.

The action begins a year after Jekyll has found his personality-splitting formula and is beginning to realize that it may be getting out of hand. Unlike the traditional narratives, he is not in love with a “good girl,” but instead is consumed with exploring the dichotomy of human nature. When asked if he believes in the soul, he is elusive, answering “Man gives names to things we cannot understand.”

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  Elkhart Civic Theatre  INHyde, instead, is the one whose lover Elizabeth Jelkes (Kaitrin Higbee), here definitely not a society belle, refuses to abandon him even as the brutal side of his nature escalates to include murder. He returns her passion and eventually Hyde — or is it Jekyll? — makes the supreme sacrifice to save her.

Throughout, the four Hyde alters serve as other characters in Jekyll’s life — attorney, valet, physicians, students, a detective, a police inspector and a maid. Each recalls incidents in the twisted scenario that binds J&H, as seen from varying points of view.

The finale is, it seems, inevitable and one that will follow the traditional ending. Don’t be too sure!

Rusel, Hyde 1, also plays Utterson, Jekyll’s attorney and most trusted friend. He establishes a solid relationship with the increasingly tortured scientist and seems the most understanding, declaring “No one is all good or all bad.”

Weisinger delivers a quartet of characters, from Enfield, Utterson’s cousin; to Sir Danvers Carew, egocentric, opinionated chief of the college of surgeons; O.F. Sanderson, a detective hired by Jekyll to check up on Hyde; and a police inspector investigating the increasing number of murders. All are definitely distinct and manage to get all the laughs lurking in the otherwise dark scenario

.

Venable is Dr. Lanyon, a Scottish colleague who runs afoul of Hyde, while Domiano is quite convincing as Poole, Dr. Jekyll’s valet, and a police surgeon. Both also portray surgical students.

Higbee works hard to make Elizabeth’s devotion to Hyde convincing and, in the end, succeeds in spite of modern attitudes towards abusers.

The four Hydes relieve Graber of the necessity of changing physically from man to monster, but the requirement for delivering extreme emotions is definitely there and he handles it well.

Director Dave Dufour and assistant director Randy Zonker, who also designed the lights, keep the action moving as quickly as possible considering the weight of the dialogue. John Shoup’s set design is, of necessity, dark, with the exception of the double-sided red door which moves frequently and easily to establish locations. In addition to the black/gray/brown color palette of the costumes (couldn’t Elizabeth have had some color in her dress?), it creates an unrelentingly cavernous setting.

Dufour and Garry Cobbum deserve major applause for the immensely effective “sound track” which, according to Dufour, was not supplied with the script but was assembled primarily from recorded music by Phillip Glass. It could not have sustained and supported the scenes and the atmosphere any better if it had been written specifically for this play.

Whether you go for this “split decision” on the familiar tale or not, it still manages to be appropriately frightening.

“DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R. 120 in Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 from 1 to 5:50 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org

Laughter Lightens 'The Violet Hour'

Several age-old questions are posed during the running time of “The Violet Hour,” recent play by Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg, heading into its final performances in the Warner Studio Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre.

If not all those questions are immediately apparent or easily answered, the interaction between the plays five characters offers a great deal to think about and a great deal of laughter whether conclusions are drawn or left dangling.

The immediate plus of this production is the cast — Steven Matthew Cole, Brad Mazick, Joshua Napierkowski, Laurisa LeSure and Kaylee Ross — and the director, Aaron Nichols, who definitely is one of the best in the more-than-immediate area. Definitely looking forward to seeing more of his work!

Doug Hildeman’s set design turns the arena stage into a three-sided thrust, necessitated at least in part by the emissions from a mechanical character, unseen but integral to the action

Several age-old questions are posed during the running time of “The Violet Hour,” recent play by Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg, heading into its final performances in the Warner Studio Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre.

If not all those questions are immediately apparent or easily answered, the interaction between the plays five characters offers a great deal to think about and a great deal of laughter whether conclusions are drawn or left dangling.

The immediate plus of this production is the cast — Steven Matthew Cole, Brad Mazick, Joshua Napierkowski, Laurisa LeSure and Kaylee Ross — and the director, Aaron Nichols, who definitely is one of the best in the more-than-immediate area. Definitely looking forward to seeing more of his work!

Doug Hildeman’s set design turns the arena stage into a three-sided thrust, necessitated at least in part by the emissions from a mechanical character, unseen but integral to the action

and disposition of the play.

The setting is the Manhattan tower office (and anteroom) of would-be publisher John Pace Seavering (Cole). The date is April 1, 1919. Does the date make a difference? Maybe. Maybe not.

As lights go up, Seavering and his assistant/best boy/clerk Gidger (Mazick) are looking for misplaced theater tickets and debating which of two manuscripts will be published — there is only money enough for one. Both have personal connections to Seavering. Both have arguable plusses and minuses.

Seavering’s Princeton roommate Denis McCleary (Napierkowski) has submitted his work literally by the boxfulls. It is unorganized and only intermittently brilliant, yet Denis needs its publication in order to prove to the wealthy father of his love Rosamund Plinth (Ross) that he is a man of promise.

The other work is by Seavering’s lover, African American singer Jessie Brewster (LeSure). It is her memoirs which she insists is required in order to prove her place to generations to come.

The Violet Hour  South Bend Civic Theatre  INInto the midst of these heated debates is delivered A Machine. Where it came from is unknown, as is its purpose. What it does, however, eventually becomes frighteningly clear. Spewed out of the machine (and all over the stage each time the door to the anteroom is opened) are pages and pages and pages of things that are to be. Not in chronological order but each bearing some notice of events — national, international and personal — in the future. They have a strong initial influence on Seavering’s wavering decision process.

Know it or not, the final choice is the only one.

Watching the individuals, duos and quartets play out the ebb and flow of Seavering’s choices starts slowly, with dialogue delivered crisply and sharply and without faltering. The tempo increases as does the physical action and no one misses a beat! The character interaction is fascinating and filled with fast-turns that elicit involuntary gasps of surprise — and a great deal of laughter — from the audience.

But is this real or imagined or just a dream? Will Bobby Ewing again emerge from the shower and make all the tragedies vanish? So, is it better to know what lies ahead and just how far ahead would that be? Does changing an action or an emotion really make a difference or will what happens, happen?

You may figure it out any way you choose. The great fun is getting there and Nichols & Co. make a visit to this “Violet Hour” one you will remember.

NOTE: Excepting Gidget, the characters reportedly are based on famous personalities from the 1920s. See if you can guess who.

“THE VIOLET HOUR” plays at 7:30 p.m. today and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the SBCT studio theater at 403 N. Main St.. For reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit SBCT.org