Wait Until Dark
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy, Raleigh
Through Aug. 5

In a grand departure from the usual rom-com machinations that have dominated this summer’s Hot Summer Nights production schedule, Raleigh’s Kennedy Theatre offers a classic suspense-drama full of thrills, chills and spills in its latest production of Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark.

Most famous for its 1967 film adaptation directed by Terence Young and starring Hollywood darling Audrey Hepburn, Wait Until Dark is a crime thriller complete with the requisite smooth-talking ex-cons, nefarious plot twists and wide-eyed innocence of a helpless victim taking center stage. The plot guarantees to keep an audience captivated, hanging onto each word and narrative twist as blind homemaker Suzy Hendrix (Jen Suchanec) plays a potentially deadly cat-and-mouse game with three menacing con men (Ryan Lee Nazionale as Sgt. Carlino, Holden Hansen as Mike Talman and Brian Norris as crime boss Harry Roat Jr.) in her Greenwich Village basement apartment. As far as suspense theater goes, this production is sure and steady with built-in climaxes as Suzy unravels the con men’s seductive plot and attempts to outwit the criminals despite her physical limitations.

But perhaps the surefire nature of the plot and script is what ultimately leads to the general spirit of apathy in this Kennedy production. Most of the cast members deliver their lines with trepidation or at least a false sense of assurance, causing the heightened seduction of wordplay to falter mid-stream and draining the potential scare factor from the play. This is most apparent in the performance of Norris as a sadistic, murderous thug. He attempts to sound threatening but comes off more like a spoiled teenager, touting his intelligence and skill with no action to back up his claims. Still, an excellent performance by Suchanec as the plucky Suzy Hendrix, whose dramatic determination to survive registers in every facial movement, resurrects at least one-half of the drama.

The full-blown effect of the atmospheric terror brought on by Suzy’s helplessness in her dingy, dark apartment comes to a head at the play’s stellar ending when most of the action takes place in bitter darkness. Cloaked in the black mask of night, Suzy uses her own disability to her advantage, relying on sound, movement and touch to overcome her fear of helplessness and defeat Roat. And while many audience members may be discouraged and confused at the masked action of the ending, the reliance on exaggerated sound and motion allow the play to finally achieve a splashy sense of mayhem that pushes its audience into the dark heart of suspense and provides a generally good payoff. Kathy Justice

King Lear
Common Ground Theatre, Durham
Closed in Durham July 29; Continues in Holly Springs Aug. 3-5

The July 29 matinee and final production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at Common Ground Theatre concluded with a collective exhalation from the audience after an emotionally grueling production by Bare Theatre’s Rogue Company.

In usual Bare Theatre style, stage adornment was minimal; a blanketed, throne-like chair stood on the solid black stage, which was adorned with one tiered platform. The sparseness spotlighted the performersmany between the ages of 13 and 21who emerged on stage before the first act for a series of choreographed poses to briefly introduce the characters and foreshadow the play’s intensity.

And intense it was: The cruelty, greed and betrayal afoot in the kingdom of a disconnected, aging ruler quickly leads to greater tragedy than the characters (scheming or innocent) could have predicted. The audience queasily watched the gore and treachery unfold, including a convincing gorging of an eyeball.

Despite the gruesomeness of the performance, the adept actors played their arduous roles coolly, experimenting with the emotional range of their voices. Austin Krieger played Edgar with thundering vehemence, while Sloan Thompson portrayed a duplicitous, sweetly smiling but ruthless Goneril. As a respite from the play’s sinister tone, Tara Pozo convincingly channeled the Fool, who somersaulted and leaped across the stage to comically and frankly reveal truths about the declining King Lear. Sarah Lupton

Theatre in the Park, Raleigh
Through Aug. 5

Theatre in the Park’s Briarpatch is advertised as a “bodacious musical,” and with its pageantry of adults in critter costumes and makeup exhibiting an almost uncanny amount of enthusiasm, it is exactly that. Watching it, one almost expects those ’80s teen icons of all that is radical, Bill and Ted, to enter the scene and embark on another “excellent adventure.”

This TIP original production is based on Joel Chandler Harris’ stories of Br’er Fox (Ira David Wood), Br’er Bear (J.K. Ferrell), Br’er Rabbit (David Henderson) and the whole briar gang. It contains catchy dance numbers and songs, several of which feature the entire cast in their colorful, country costumes moving in synchronization. Wood plays an excellent Br’er Fox: His fox mannerisms and hilarious fox voice are the highlight of the show. Young children will undoubtedly appreciate the show for its anthropomorphism and commitment to detail (including Br’er Turtle’s giant shelled back), as well as its attempts at Abbott and Costello antics. Adults, meanwhile, may also find the show stimulating upon noticing the wit slipped into the dialogue, such as the accusation of the simple-minded Br’er Turtle (Mike Raab), “Youse not an optimist, youse a Democrat like the rest of us!” (Part of the enjoyment for adults may also come from the thought of Briarpatch as the subject of the next Christopher Guest movie.)

As an annual production, the show has both wisdom of experience under its belt and the slightly stale aura of that which has been done many times before. While most of the scenes, with the exception of Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear’s watered-down Of Mice and Men relationship, lack any striking talent, there are enough compensationsfrom the enjoyment of the children watching to the uncompromising energy of the actors involvedto ensure that you’ll be amused. Megan Stein