Sunday, January 27, 2019

From the Desk of Jim R, Take, 2, Column 130, A Review: "Murder For Two" (Playhouse on Park)

By James V. Ruocco

It takes incredible skill to pull off something as wonderful as as marvelous as "Murder for Two." Done right, every pratfall, planned fiasco, spit take, hoary grin, gasp, tick, sight gag and double take must be performed with gleeful solidity, timing and dash to support the craziness that follows. One wrong move, and it's curtains for everyone involved.

At Playhouse on Park, that, of course, never happens. Here, you get a very bold and classy production that exists mainly to kick you in the ass with laughter, knock you out of your seat with laughter and put you in the line of fire for amusement's sake. And oh yes, more laughter.


"Murder for Two," written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, gets it right every time using the same jellylike precision that made "The Play That Goes Wrong," "Noises Off " and "No Sex Please, We're British," such a hit with both Broadway and West End audiences.

One big difference.
In this go round, there are only two actors.
And that's the goofball gag, so to speak.

And since this is a musical whodunit, both actors must be able to act, sing, dance and play the piano on cue. One of them must also be able to jump back and forth and round and round again to play a variety of male and female characters (i.e., the suspects) using different voices, faces, mannerisms and expressions in a single heartbeat. No costume changes either. Just a bottle of alprazolam on a nearby table. Just kidding about the tablets, folks!.

"Murder for Two" opens in the spacious drawing room of a Victorian mansion. It is the night of a surprise birthday party for Arthur Whitney, the celebrated author of many popular mystery novels. Unfortunately, he's shot dead in the play's opening minutes. Not to worry though. Officer Marcus Moscowicz, a charismatic rookie, pretending to be a detective, arrives on the scene immediately to interrogate the suspects, all of whom have a motive. Or do they? Its been said that Whitney exposed many of their real-life secrets in his books.

That's the surprise of the night.

Staging "Murder for Two," director Kyle Metzger basques in the show's synchronized silliness, its vaudevillian gaiety, its unbridled camp and its crafty parody of murder mysteries, the suspects themselves and those grilling interrogation moments orchestrated by the play's ace detective. Creativity, in turn, abounds as Metzger delves headfirst into Kinosian and Blair's wacky play text to pull you in at all corners, throw logic out the window, pump up the adrenaline. dish out the laughter and fashion his own wave of farcical, shtick-fueled comedy.

This being a two character play dependent on the full exploration of musical theater, comic shtick and whodunit parody, pacing, the right kind of pacing, is essential in order for "Murder for Two" to take shape, breathe and move. Given the mechanics of the play script, you also have to fill the stage with a certain kind of movement and blocking that adapts immediately to the show's split-second comic  timing motif. Without it, "Murder for Two" would stop dead in its track and fade to black during its opening minutes.

Metzger, as director, comes to "Murder for Two" well-prepared. Assured, steadied and perfectly in sync with the play's concept, he never once executes a false move. There's a lot going on here but everything that happens unfolds with real purpose and comic ingenuity. With just two actors in tow (there's also a piano and a prop or two), he fuels the production with a fast and breezy animation that complements the material and keeps things moving merrily along at breakneck speed. His staging is both thrilling and collective as is his detailed execution of the actual suspects, all of whom have so many parts to their persona, you sit back in amazement at the quick-handed artistry and imagination involved in scene after scene, song after song and character after character. Bloody amazing!

The musical score for "Murder for Two" has been written by Joe Kinosian (music) and Kellen Blair (lyrics). It contains 19 musical numbers: "Prelude," "Waiting in the Dark," "Protocol Says," "Dahlia Whitney," "A Perfectly Lovely Surprise,"  "Murray & Barb Flandon,"  "It Was Her," " Timmy, Yonkers & Skid,"  "A Lot Worse," "Steph Whitney," "He Needs a Partner," "Barette Lewis," "So What If I Did," "A Friend Like You," "Henry Vivaldi," "Process of Elimination," "Steppin' Out of the Shadows," "I Need a Partner/Protocol Says" and "Finale Ultimo (A Friend Like You)."

As with "Something's Afoot," another musical whodunit, the songs themselves are serviceable to the plot, the characters, the story and its evolution. They are fun, cheeky, whimsical, dastardly and happily romantic. Moreover, they never creep up out of nowhere or stop the action dead in its tracks. Instead, Kinosian and Blair craft a grab bag of musical entertainment that keeps the excitement of the show up as "Murder for Two's" musical twosome shift gears faster than a  coked-up chameleon  reveling in the show's mental fun house conceit and its many rhythmic colors.

At Playhouse on Park, musical director Melanie Guerin is best remembered for her musical showmanship on "In the Heights" and "Peter and the Starcatcher." Here, she is in exceptional form teaching her two stars the intricacies of the show's vocal score, its orchestrations, its ever-changing beats and rhythms and its live performance virtuosity. The dynamic duo, in turn, are in tip- top shape, playing melodies, hand switching among chords and deftly communicating the different emotions and reactions of the individual songs. Throughout "Murder for Two," they honor both the composers and the listener with intelligent, fully committed work at the piano, matched by a noticeable delicacy, dash, drama and challenging expressiveness.

As the man of many faces and characters, Trevor Dorner plunges head first into the play's ripe, unabashed lunacy. His passion for acting, characterization and song and dance is set forth with amazing vision, clarity and preparation. His stamina is completely staggering as is his gumby-like ability to jump back and forth between characters, then jump back in again, using madcap voices, faces, flapping arms and crazy orchestrated  body language with breakneck speed and invention. You learn so much about acting just by watching him glide across the Playhouse on Park stage with perfectly pitched and practiced elan.

As Marcus Moscowitz, John Grieco does his straight man detective bit effortlessly as things all round him get crazier and crazier by the second. It's a fun part and one the actor invests with plenty of personality, dash, bewilderment and spirit. Like Dorner, he comes to "Murder For Two" with tremendous vitality and verve. He succumbs to the play's comic crackle with identifiable passion, snap and dedication. He also magically clicks with Doner making their onstage comic interplay snap, crackle and pop. Both play off one another with gleeful, wicked abandon.

Musically, Grieco and Dorner are in their element. Both possess Broadway caliber voices which makes their many musical numbers hit home on every level. It's hard not to be won over by their vocal charms, nuance and full-range perfection. No matter what they sing, they allow their voice to fill out the theater and complement the material, always finding the real meaning and personalization behind every musical moment.

"Murder for Two" is a wild, winning musical mystery romp chock full of falls, twists, turns, laughter, mix ups, cliches, schadenfreude and blighty trips of the fantastic. As directed by Kyle Metzger, it embraces and celebrates its position as crazed, gobsmacked entertainment. Its playful attack on the whodunit genre is triumphant. It also comes gift wrapped with two performances of the highest order by the very talented and charismatic duo of Trevor Dorner and John Grieco. It's a genuine feat of endurance that they are still standing after  90 minutes of musical chaos, dizzying dash, high farce, low farce and everything in between plus the mounting mayhem that ensues when the script asks one actor to switch gears and characters at the drop of a hat. Crikey! Not a hiccup in sight.

 Photos by Meredith Longo & Rich Wagner, Imagine It Framed

"Murder For Two" is being staged at Playhouse on Park ( 244 Park Rd., West Hartford, CT), now through February 3.
For tickets or more information, call (86) 523-5900.

Friday, January 25, 2019

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 129, A Review: "The Engagement Party" (Hartford Stage)

By James V. Ruocco

Josh and Katherine are celebrating their engagement.
One of one, the guests arrive.

The party, set in early January 2007, at the couple's posh Park Avenue apartment on Manhattan's upper East Side, however, comes with a price once a glass of wine is spilt and a $300,000 engagement ring goes missing at the dinner table.

That, of course, sets the stage for "The Engagement Party," a thrilling, inventive whodunit of sorts where everyone is suspect and subject to gloom, doom and condemnation as the story unfolds with the sort of crazy twistedness indicative of a BBC Agatha Christie-like thriller.


"The Engagement Party" is smartly original as this swank celebration goes from cheery to dark and things eventually come crashing down on everyone with a dynamic roar that is not only satisfying, but one that will have you talking for weeks.

Written to Samuel Baum, "The Engagement Party" is ultimately a play about trust, understanding and destruction brought on because of lies, deceit, jealousy and deception. It's a complicated puzzle,  offset by mystery, moral choices, shocking pronouncements, truths, homosexuality, monetary obsession and exposed nerves. Baum's dialogue, subplots and characters are meticulously drawn and centered and perfectly in sync with the play's many jumps, kicks, jolts and rhythms. At the same time, the playwright points out that no important relationship (familial, sexual, romantic or friend) could survive if trust is totally broken. And secondly, there is no going back whatsoever, if the betrayal is  especially hurtful and damaging. Ouch!

"The Engagement Party" is being directed by the award-winning Darko Tresnjak whose Hartford Stage credits include "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Rear Window," "Anastasia," "A Lesson from Aloes," "Heartbreak House" and "The Comedy of Errors," among others. Here, he is in his element as he takes hold of Baum's script, turns it all around and upside down and fashions one of the most savvy, astute and spellbinding nights of theater on record in the state. His knowledge, aptitude and love of theater gives "The Engagement Party" its pulse, its dimension, its energy and its raw emotion.

Tresnjak, of course, knows the ending, but he never once lets things slip or does he throw you a bone and say jump. He's far too sophisticated for that. Instead, he asks you to put on your thinking caps, follow the characters from room to room and decide who's lying, who's telling the truth and who is fucked up enough to actually steal the ring when nobody was looking. At the same time, what if it's all a ruse? Was the ring actually stolen? Or did someone deliberately hide it to mess with everyone's heads and get them talking about what they hate and loathe most about one another.

As "The Engagement Party" unfolds, Tresnjak creates the necessary tension, bitterness and mayhem to keep the action moving forward without a halt or a hiccup. Everyone, of course, is guilty. some more than others. Then again, maybe, yes. Maybe, no. Nothing happens without reason or consequence. It's all carefully worked out to push you over the edge or cause you to break out in a sweat before the actual culprit is or isn't revealed.

"The Engagement Party" stars Zack Appelman as Josh, Beth Riesgraf as Katherine, Brian Lee Huynh as Kai, Mia Dillon as Gail, Teddy Bergman as Alan, Richard Bekins as Conrad, Anne Troup as Haley and Brian Patrick Murphy as Johnny. Here, as in other plays he has directed at Hartford Stage, Tresnjak has cast yet another group of personable, tremendously talented performers who completely understand the mechanics of the staging, the script, the characters, the evolution of the story and their role in its progression. Everyone is in sync with the actual proceedings and brings insight, perspective, drive, personality and dimension to their characters. All eight actors interact splendidly with their fellow performers no matter how tangled, twisted, crazy and convoluted things get. They toy with our senses. They push us over the edge. They surprise us. They shock us. They keep us guessing. And when the ball drops, they make us see that no one saw it coming.

In conclusion, "The Engagement Party" is a taut, fascinating and captivating theatrical piece that strikes a chord in all of us about family, marriage, friendship and relationships. It is brilliantly directed by Darko Tresnjak. The cast he has chosen shines bright in their individual roles. Sam Baum's play text is fluid and expressive and brings a fresh, intrinsic sound to the wonderful utilized space that is Hartford Stage. And finally, there's an ovation-worthy set, slickly designed by Alexander Dodge whose Hartford Stage credits include "Rear Window" and "Anastasia."

In the play's final minutes, all is revealed.
Let's just say that no one saw it coming.
And therein, lies the play's enjoyment.

"The Engagement Party" is being presented at Hartford Stage (50 Church St., Hartford, CT), now through February 3.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 527-5151.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 128, A Review: "Miller, Mississippi" (Long Wharf Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco
Mildred Miller.
Thomas Miller.
John Miller.
Becky Miller.
Doris Stevenson.

These five characters are the heart and soul of Boo Killebrew's tough, frightening and fascinating Southern Gothic melodrama "Miller, Mississippi," a play that kicks you in the gut and makes your skin crawl as it digs deep to expose the pride, the pathos, the racism, the smut, the dirt, the deceit, the sex and the spilt blood of one white family and their black house keeper living in Jackson, Mississippi.


"Miller, Mississippi" packs an emotional wallop that is fierce, frenzied and insightful. It also handles the angst, pain, fight, attack, craziness and deplorableness of its characters like a mad shrink forced to work overtime while trying to make sense of it all.

Written by Mississippi-born Boo Killebrew, the play deals openly with suicide, prejudice, social change, political upheaval, homosexuality, incest, murder, civil rights, southern family tradition, sibling rivalry, class status, white privilege, secrets, lies, AIDS, economic disparity, family legacy,  marital disintegration, race relations, the breaking of rules, the fear of progression and the cry for freedom.

That, of course, is a lot to digest but Killebrew never lets her audience down as her characters grapple with the dicey ingredients she throws before them. Her dialogue is pungent and resourceful. The scenes themselves stir and fascinate. Danger and deceit lurk everywhere. Truths are exposed like a raging storm at sea. Nothing seems out of place or calculated. And it's all very bloody well interesting. You want edge of the seat entertainment. You'll find it here.

"Miller, Mississippi" is being staged by Obie-winning director Lee Sunday Evans whose directorial credits include "Dance Nation," "Caught," "Macbeth," "A Winter's Tale" and "Bull in a China Shop." Given the complicated, intricate mechanics of Boo Killebrew's play text, this is not an easy play to stage, much less get right as the action runs its course from 1960 through 1994. It takes someone with the knowledge and aptitude of Evans to give it pulse, drive, promise and momentum with nary a creak, a blip or halt in the proceedings.
If at any time the play stops dead in its tracks or the audience stirs or shakes their head in disbelief, than Evans has failed. Luckily, this never happens. Evans, as director, know the puzzle that is "Miller, Mississippi" sideways, backwards, front and center and in between. The groundwork is layed. The pieces are all set and move accordingly. Nothing happens without reason. And no matter how crazy or shocking things get, the audience willingly goes along for the ride never knowing what's around the corner, how it will all play out and how it will all end.

As the play unfolds, the characters rip pages from two strategically placed wall calendars on either side of Kristen Robinson's handsome set that reflects the passage of months, years and decades. Evans orchestrates these time changes with intrigue, purpose, surprise and confidence. She shocks you when she has too. She makes you laugh when the script asks her too. She kicks you in the ass. She slaps with in the face. She makes you gasp or pull back. And, she pisses you off. Then again, that's the point of the piece as the lives and fates of the five principal characters hang in a balance.

The two-act drama stars Charlotte Booker as Mildred Miller, Roderick Hill as Thomas Miller, Leah Karpel as Becky Miller, Jacob Perkins as John Miller and Benja Kay Thomas as Doris Stevenson.
All five actors are perfectly cast and completely in sync with Killebrew's  deft storytelling techniques and Evans sharp, in-your-face direction. They each bring proper dimension, scope, drive, versatility and purpose to their ever-changing characters as time marches on and on. And everyone interacts splendidly with their fellow performers no matter how tangled, crazy or shocking things get.

"Miller, Mississippi" is an accomplished, intelligently written drama that provides a serious, explosive night of deeply moving theatre that is not easily forgotten. It is real. It is raw. It is mad. It is fucked up. Add to the mix five gut-wrenching performances, a grab bag of unexpected plot twists and a quirky, but justified ending guaranteed to leave you emotionally drained. That said, conflict and tension go a very long way.

"Miller, Misspssippi" is being staged at Long Wharf Theatre (222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, CT), now through February 3.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 787-4282.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 127, A Review: "The Mountaintop" (Majestic Theater)

By James V. Ruocco

"We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not that concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! " 
(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. )

In Katori Hall's stirring, heartfelt two-character play "The Mountaintop," it is April 3, 1968 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the small confines of Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, is working on yet another visionary civil rights movement speech he plans to deliver to the American people.

He's ready.
We're ready.
But sadly, that moment never comes.

On April 4, 1968, King was shot by James Earl Ray at precisely 6:01 p.m. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. He was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, but never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m.

While these events of King's story are well chronicled and widely known, the depth, drive and punch of Hall's work comes from the playwright's imagined thoughts, moments and interactions the night before his death once this American icon meets and befriends Camae, a Lorraine Motel maid who delivers a pot of coffee and ends up staying to fight, spar, joke, philosophize and finally, foretell  King his pending fate.


This well-made, two-act play unfolds with just the right mix of fact, fantasy and revelation.
It is lively. It is poignant. It is grounded. It is dramatic. It stirs the senses. It gets you thinking. It delivers an emotional wallop. It celebrates the legacy of the man himself. And just when you think you've got everything figured out, Hall lets it be known that the very outspoken, very opinionated Camae brings more than just coffee to room 306. In truth, she's actually an angel (that's right, an angel from above) who not only gives King the opportunity to talk to God (in this go-round, God is black and female), but tells him of the future that awaits and the one that will unfold 50 years after his assassination.

It's all very well conceived and positioned by Hall who offers her audience a very unique take on King and one that is very different from the oft-performed musical drama "I Have a Dream." Here, King is still front and center, but we get a more radical, ordinary and driven man whose fight for freedom made the world, in part, what it is today. The fantasy-like element of "The Mountaintop" also allows the playwright to offer her own view on African-American history after King's passing and address the political and racial climate of modern America.

"The hope of a secure and livable world lies with nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."
(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr) 

As directed by Gilbert McCauley, "The Mountaintop" is an invigorating theatrical piece. It is intimately staged in the Majestic Theater's cozy, personalized environs (Josiah Durham's colorful set design of the Lorraine Motel is absolutely perfect) and chock full of pathos, quirky, snappy humor and jarring twists of fate, attitude and melodrama. On the flip side, McCauley, working from Hall's multi-layered play text, crafts a very personal portrait of King that reveals his surprising vulnerability, his inner strength, his self-doubt and his ongoing struggle to maintain his stature and grasp of dignity away from the limelight, the press, the television cameras and the famous marches.

This being a two character play dependent on the full exploration of opportunity and character, pacing, the right kind of pacing, is mandatory in order for "The Mountaintop" to breathe, move and take shape. McCauley's staging proves productive at every turn without any lulls in the action or moments that seem forced and calculated. Elsewhere, the director encourages his actors to spread their wings, so to speak, as he brings them together as one for a night of theater that is both coherent and compellingly collective.

Jamil A.C. Mangan offers theatergoers a rich, deeply textured portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that captures his extraordinary drive, spirit and mindset. This is King, the man, the icon, the preacher, the civil rights leader who loved life, loved people, loved mankind, loved his family, etc. Nothing was too complicated. Nothing was impossible. Nothing was too difficult to overcome. Here, King's fight and struggle for justice and equality is brilliantly rendered in Mangan's raw, real, magnetic performance.

"Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase."
(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

The actor is also faithful to King's spoken orations, which he delivers so magnificently, the words are as powerful today as they were back then. We see that King was a man who wanted peace. And behind the motel room door, as envisioned by Hall and Mangan, he was humorous, lively and utterly charming.

Lynette R. Freeman brings appropriate mystery, nuance and allure to the part of the seductive Camae She's spirited. She's foul-mouthed. She's opinionated. She's flirty. She's star struck. She's brash. She's sassy. It's a part that seems tailor-made to suit her obvious talents and one she plays with assured, readied aplomb. A vibrant, charismatic performer, who connects most agreeably to her co-star, Freeman delivers a very real, truthful performance that heightens Gilbert McCauley's richly inhabited production.

"The Mountaintop" is a major achievement in American theatre. It offers tremendous insight into the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the major events of the Civil Rights movement, his incredible achievements, his love for his family and friends and the many sacrifices he made in his fight for freedom, justice, mankind and racial equality.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

"The Mountaintop" is being staged at the Majestic Theatre (131 Elm St., West Springfield, MA ), now through February 10.
For tickets or more information, call (413) 747-7797.

Friday, January 11, 2019

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 126, A Review: "Wait Until Dark" (Connecticut Cabaret Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco
It has jumps.
It has scares.
It has tension.
It has thrills.
It has edge.
It has surprises.
It has danger.
It has character.
It has vulnerability.
And finally, it has a very talented director in tow and a brilliant ensemble team of six actors in its midst.
That, in a nutshell, is what gives heart, soul and pulse to Connecticut Cabaret Theatre's smart, resourceful staging of Frederick Knott's popular psychological thriller "Wait Until Dark," which incidentally kicks off this acclaimed theater troupe's 22nd season.


"Wait Until Dark" is a thoroughly engrossing drama, matched by sharp, nuanced writing, achingly real tensions, edgy characters, good vs. evil clashes and plenty of power-charged moments both cast and audience embrace, enjoy and digest.

First performed on Broadway in February, 1966 with film star Lee Remick in the pivotal role of blind woman Suzy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn played the part in the 1967 film adaptation), "Wait Until Dark" found Remick's character quickly targeted by three con-men searching for heroin inside a doll which her husband Sam accidentally transported from Canada as a favor to a woman, who, for plot purposes, has been murdered.

Where's the body?
Who's the killer?
Where's the doll?
Who's going to end up dead?
Is time running out?

The fact that Suzy can only hear and not see the three decidedly creepy but clever con men who continually show up at her apartment wearing a number of different disguises thrusts "Wait Until Dark" forward with endless dramatic questions, pauses, twists, turns and complications. The lights, on occasion, often go out. The blinds in her Greenwich Village residence are used for codes and signals. The phone rings loudly on cue. There's tapping on the pipes. And yes, not everyone survives.

To pull this feat off and do it well, especially well, you have to have the right director with the right mindset. The enlistment of Kris McMurray as director of "Wait Until Dark" is an accomplishment in itself. Who better that McMurray to bring Frederick Knott's off-revived drama to life. He's an actor himself. He loves actors. He loves directing. He loves the entire theatrical process from the first rehearsal to opening night. He understands the mechanics of the actual play script. He takes chances and runs with them. He also knows how to cast a play and cast it right without the bullshit, the favoritism and egotism that has left other community theaters on the outside looking in.

Here, we get a moving, fast-paced, finely calibrated production that keeps everyone in the audience on edge playing detective anxiously awaiting the final denouement where all is revealed, resolved and tidied up right before the final curtain bows. As the story moves from scene to scene and act to act, McMurray puts his own personal stamp on every conversation, every character evolution, every passage of time, every outburst and confrontation, every trick, tick and disguise and every twisty occurrence.

Yes, these are actors performing in a swiftly rehearsed and blocked staged play with dialogue and characters envisioned by Knott and deft, steadied direction by McMurray. But here, as in other productions shaped and readied by McMurray, nothing seems rehearsed or calculated to fit a specific running time. Instead, we get six very likeable, but very different actors who invite us into their lives for hour upon hour. We sit there and watch, of course, but never once are we reminded that they are actors performing in a play. This incarnation of "Wait Until Dark" is real, raw, honest and emotional.

The right pacing is also essential.
Staging "Wait Until Dark," McMurray brings proper energy, spark, intuitiveness and inventiveness to the project.  He locates, dissects and develops the play's psychological center like a master chef in a world-renowned restaurant. He knows when to take a breath, a pause a stop, a go or a jump forward or backward without every once missing a beat. He treats the entire project with the respect it deserves and demands. He also knows what buttons to push when it comes time to amp up the suspense or slap you in the face with a clue or two. And finally, how to make your skin crawl or work you up into a frenzied sweat that requires a cold towel or a hefty glass of gin, vodka or scotch on ice.

Under McMurray's tutelage, the performances are crisp and cutting best.
Years and years of community theater experience and performance make Julie Tremaglio Lemos the ideal candidate for the plum role of blind woman Suzy Hendrix. Whether performing in a comedy, a drama or a musical, the actress always gives 110 perfect. Here, she is no different. She's honest. She's real. She's focused. She's natural. She's passionate. She loves being on the stage. She loves performing. It's in her eyes. It's in her mannerisms. It's in her movements. It's in her characterization. It's in her line delivery.  This is her finest hour yet and it shows.

Her portrayal of Suzy Hendrix cleverly projects the character's confusion and frustration with being visually impaired (an accident has left her blind). At the same time, Lemos infuses the part with the apt integrity and imagination of someone trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. She is also totally in sync with the play's actual real-life horrors, the monsters who want to harm her and the final realization that she if she doesn't act quick, she could easily end up dead on the living room floor in a pool of blood. Anxiety and terror reign along with a hefty dose of  courage. All three are superbly executed by Lemos with appropriate color, nuance and steadfastness.

In the role of Gloria, the young girl who lives upstairs from Suzy and Sam (she has been paid by Sam to become Suzy's little helper), Allie Lesser gives one of those knockout performance that cry standing ovation at every turn. She's bratty. She's bitchy. She's obnoxious. She's very full of herself. She also needs a kick in the ass. But that's Gloria , front and center, and Lesser never once drops her guard down for a moment. It's a part she was destined to play and play it she does night and night much to the delight of everyone on stage and in the audience. I, for, one, can't wait to see what she does next.

Playing the roles of Henry Roat, Mike Talman, Sargent Carlino and Sam Hendrix, Josh Luszczak, Dave Wall, Russell Fish and Michael Gilbride, each bring proper dimension, scope and drive to their respective roles. All four are well cast by McMurray. And like Lemos and Lesser, they each deliver  outstanding performances and interact splendidly with their fellow performers..

"Wait Until Dark" is an exciting, satisfying drama, tautly directed by Kris McMurray. It is thrilling, intimate and suspenseful. It is acted with piercing truthfulness and astonishing clarity. It toys with your senses. It pushes you over the edge. It leaves you shaken. And when it's over, its formidable strength and intense humanity is not easily dismissed or forgotten.

"Wait Until Dark" is being staged at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre (31-33 Webster Square Rd., Berlin, CT), now through February 2.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 829-1248