OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego’s student honors production of “Wait Until Dark,” playing Nov. 19 to 24 in Tyler Hall’s lab theatre, will put the audience right on top of the thriller, and that’s fine with director and senior theatre major Dana Ernest.
“One thing about this play that’s so great is that it’s such heightened realism,” Ernest said. “That’s really what we’re going for … But the audience is so close, we can’t get away with anything — it has to be real.”
The Blackfriars and theatre department production, set in the 1960s to stay faithful to Frederick Knott’s 1966 Broadway original and the popular 1967 film adaption, will preview at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19, and run at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20 to 23, with a finale at 2 p.m. Nov. 24.
“Wait Until Dark” portrays the threat to a blind woman, Susy Hendrix (Australian exchange student Mikaela Hollonds), who must find a way to survive, in her Greenwich Village apartment, the invasive efforts of con men who are convinced she is holding a fortune in heroin in a stuffed animal her husband unwittingly brought back from a trip to Canada.
“The play selection committee read three plays a week,” Ernest said. “One thing I noticed about ‘Wait Until Dark’ was that it was the only play I stayed up till two o’clock in the morning to read — I had to finish it.”
Maintaining suspense requires not only the skills of Hollonds and con men Mike Talman (Knate MacKenzie-Roy), Sgt. Carlino (Max Fehr) and Harry Roat (Jesse Lessner), according to Ernest, but also a variety of dramatic techniques to build to the edge-of-the-seat final scene.
Ernest said that just as Hollonds must convey what it’s like to be blind — as well as extremely smart and very brave — set and lighting designer Ola Kraszpulska, a theatre faculty member, must evoke the absence of light for the heroine and keep the threat level at high pulse.
“Toward the end, the lights will start to go out, placing the audience and the villains in Susy’s world,” Ernest said.
Student sound designer Ryan Carley welcomed the challenge of using the music and effects to keep the suspense building, bringing tension to a peak at just the right moments, she said. Music will create “almost the feel of a noir” during scene changes.
“I have a really clear idea what I want for the show,” Ernest said. “I think I’ve been able to communicate really well with the cast and crew. Collaboration is so important, and I’ve learned how important it is to stay flexible to other people’s ideas.”
The strength of the lead character is key for Ernest. “One of the things that impressed me when I read the play was Susy Hendrix is neither a damsel in distress nor a femme fatale. As her husband Sam (Timothy Bowman) said, ‘She’s the world’s champion blind woman.'”
In rehearsals since Sept. 30, the production had a visit in October from former Oswego student and Hollywood scriptwriter and actor Frank Dietz, who played con man Talman in an early ’80s campus presentation of “Wait Until Dark.”
“One thing I really enjoyed was how he described his relationship with the other actor who was his partner in crime,” Ernest said. “They were already friends off-stage, and what they were encouraged to do was play around as the characters, not as themselves. We can use a lot of that approach in our show, as well.”
Others in the cast are police officers (Dan Frohm and Carlos Clemenz) and neighbor Gloria (Alex Greenwald).
The crew also includes stage manager Nicholas Goodman, assistant stage managers Leanne Cole and Nicholas Pike, costumer designer Kitty Macey, technical director Sean Culligan, dramaturg Jay Harr and master electrician Greg Brewster.
Tickets for “Wait Until Dark” cost $12 ($7 for SUNY Oswego students; all tickets for the preview are $5), and are available at college box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu and by calling 315-312-2141.
Parking is included in the price of the ticket, and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of and to the east of Culkin Hall. People with disabilities needing assistance should call 315-312-2141 in advance.