When the stage lights come on, darkness will fall on the latest Walt Willey production "Wait Until Dark," taking the stage Thursday, Oct. 27, through Sunday, Oct. 30, at the 807 Building Performance Center in Ottawa.
But you may not want to wait to see it.
In "Wait Until Dark," when Sam Hendrix transports a doll from Canada as a favor to a recently murdered woman, he is unaware the doll is filled with heroin.
Looking to cash in on a drug deal, three villains take Sam's blind wife, Susy, hostage in her home and attempt terrorizing her into handing over the doll. Unknown to them, a neighbor girl, Gloria, has stolen the doll after finding it was not a gift for her as she hoped it was.
Willey explained how he came to choose the play, which is markedly different from productions he's done in the past.
"Our first few years, when we were only doing one show a year, we did comedies. As we began to expand, we introduced dramas to the mix, such as 'Deathtrap,' 'Auntie Mame' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and this summer's 'Inherit The Wind.' "
Those shows all had lighter moments, but none — including "Deathtrap" — was a real nailbiter thriller-chiller like "Wait Until Dark."
Willey speaks highly of the audience his shows invite and believes this production will satisfy their theatrical cravings.
"Our audience, which is more sophisticated than they are often given credit for, has been wonderfully receptive to the shows we've presented, and I'm hoping this show will not be an exception. It's my personal opinion that audiences like smart plays, shows that take them on a very exciting journey, and 'Wait Until Dark' certainly fills that bill," he said.
"Naturally, I thought perhaps a Halloween-themed show — a thriller in particular — might be the way to go. I had seen 'Wait Until Dark' several years ago and gave it a read. I found it to be a well-written, smart play that would lend itself extremely well to our new, intimate space in the 807 Building," he said.
Willey refers to the play as a true "nailbiter" he and other cast and crew members believe will thrill audience members.
He recalled his first experience with the production from writer by Frederick Knott. "Wait Until Dark" premiered on Broadway in 1966 with Lee Remick, Robert Duvall and Mitchell Ryan.
“I remember seeing the movie at the Roxy Theater when I was 12 years old. It’s a well-written thriller by the playwright who gave us 'Dial M for Murder.' It’s a real thrill ride,” the Ottawa native said.
Willey will portray Sam Hendrix and share the stage with some special, younger actors.
"Once again, we are joined by members of the Starved Rock Country Children's Learning Theatre, both on and off stage. Emma Gerkitz, who played Melinda in 'Inherit The Wind,' joins us again as Gloria, the girl that lives upstairs from Susy and finds herself in the middle of the mayhem. Emma is a talented young actor, and does a great job. Alea Ogle, also a SRCCLT student actor, is serving as my assistant on this project and is an enormous help," Willey said.
He also spoke highly of the entire cast, saying, "This company has been so fortunate to have some of the best actors in this area — and beyond — join us."
Some of those actors shed light on on the exciting darkness of the play and what theater-goers can expect.
Adam Oldaker as Carlino
"I portray one of the three villains in the play. Carlino and I are very different; I teach English and direct the honors program at Illinois Valley Community College, while Carlino makes many illegal and unethical choices.
"Walt has been helping me to build this character, both internally and physically. I have been finding psychological and emotional points of similarity between this character and me, and I have been trying to create a certain commanding, even menacing, physical presence," Oldaker said.
And without a spoiler alert, Oldaker has a favorite scene,
"My favorite scene is the final one, where Susy and Roat, one of our bad guys, played by Chance Willey, confront each other one last time. Erica and Chance are so very good in this scene — it gives me chills every time I see it. Their performances throughout the play, but especially in this scene, are professional grade," he said.
Erica Quirk as Susy Hendrix
Quirk has appeared in WilleyWorld Community Productions the last five years, including her role in
"Arsenic and Old Lace" and as a stand-in for Julia Barr, one of Willey's "All My Children" cast mates.
In "Wait Until Dark," Quirk sets her sights on a new artistic goal.
"The biggest challenge of taking on the role of a recently blinded person is losing the ability to make eye contact with my fellow actors. To lose that specific connection forces one to heavily rely on the other senses to absorb or process information, and then, in turn, to respond and react to the other actors' words and physical gestures/movements," Quirk said.
For Quirk, the role has proven to be both a strain and a joy.
"I've found that working at 'not seeing anything' can cause a form of eye strain," she joked. "I like working with the other cast members very much. Emma, Bill, Adam, Chance, Walt, Tony and Brian have made 'Wait Until Dark' a most memorable and enjoyable experience for me. With Walt's directing skills, this show has come together very well."
Quirk commended non-cast mates.
"I have been reminded so often, people with any kind of 'disability' are strong in character, abundant with humor and full of perseverance . They can be wonderful role models. I think the audience will agree Susy makes a good case for herself as one such role model when she turns her obvious disadvantage into a surprising advantage. She's vulnerable — but brave, fragile — but tough, challenged, but determined and blind, but insightful."
And what are the chances father and son again take the stage together — especially when the latter has a booming career of his own?
Chance Willey as Roat
"Roat is the youngest of the three villains, and the smartest. He is a criminal chameleon who can assume any character he needs to get what he wants; a megalomaniac who thrives on thrill of the chase and the stupidity and fear of others," Chance Willey said.
Although Chance has seen the production before, he hasn't drawn much inspiration for the way he portrays the same character. Like father, like son, Chance prefers to put his own take on any role he takes while respecting the way others may have portrayed them in the past.
"It may be the last time we work together for awhile," Walt Willey said. "Chance's career has taken off of late (he leaves Ottawa soon to shoot a movie, his second this year), with another starting in early 2017, so he may not be back for a while."
All cast members gave kudos to new set and props contributor, Wayne Underwood, a local woodworker and craftsman, who was brought aboard after a radio appearance Willey made prior to auditions.
They also agree the twists and turns of the play, and white-knuckle moments will thrill audiences in a way comparable to larger venues or big-screen productions.
" 'Wait Until Dark' has many special effects. I'd like to tell you more, but don't want to spoil the surprises. I will say that this show's production will be excellent, as good as anything you'd see anywhere in larger cities," Willey said.
“WAIT UNTIL DARK,” a WilleyWorld Community Productions drama, will be presented in the 807 Building, 807 La Salle St. (second floor) in downtown Ottawa.
PERFORMANCES WILL BEGIN 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, through Saturday, Oct. 29 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30. 815-434-2737.
TO ORDER TICKETS, call 815-434-2737 or visit waltwilleyworld.com. Tickets also will be sold at the door.