Good Company Players turns off the lights and plays the suspense card with its new production of “Wait Until Dark” at the 2nd Space Theatre. In Friday’s 7 section, I talk with Danielle Jorn, who has the plum role of a blind woman who falls into a web spun by a trio of criminals. Here’s the extended version of our interview.
Question: Briefly put, what is the plot of “Wait Until Dark”?
It follows Susy, a blind woman, who is being conned by three men that believe a doll (filled with some very expensive “contraband”) is hidden somewhere in her apartment.
How would you describe Susy, your character?
Susy is such a strong person. She hasn’t been blind her entire life. She was recently blinded in a car accident. While it has been an adjustment period for her and she does struggle with it, she hasn’t allowed it to disable her nor does she ever play the victim. She wants nothing more than to be independent and to do things on her own. In fact, you could go so far as to say she is a bit stubborn about it. She has a great sense of humor as well. I think that’s a big part of how she has gotten through losing her sight. That’s something she and I definitely have in common, we both use humor to mask any sort of struggle.
Have you ever played a blind character before? What’s the experience like?
I have not! That was one of the most attractive things about this role. I love finding a challenge. I always try to look for something that will teach me something new. This has been such a unique and rewarding experience as an actress. I was very intimidated when we began. As we’ve gone through the rehearsal process, I’ve had to really rely on listening and feeling my way around the set. Now, obviously, I can really see, so I asked Denise Graziani, our director, if I could do a rehearsal blind folded, to really get a grasp on what Susy is really experiencing. It was the most interesting rehearsal I’ve ever had. There were so many moments where I had to stop and really feel around because I had no idea where I was or how I got there! Was I near the table, the refrigerator, the door — no clue. It was really helpful and allowed me to focus solely on my other senses to get me where I needed to go.
The genre of suspense has been so thoroughly mined by movies that it’s almost like audiences are inured to the typical techniques: scary music, quick edits, tight point-of-view shots. What do you think the key is to making a really good suspenseful play?
It’s so interesting because we don’t have the luxury of editing and multiple takes — we’ve got one shot and one shot only to get it right and scare the wits out of people. I think the ingredients for success in this genre are very similar to any play. The acting, directing, lighting and sound have to be perfectly in sync for this to work. There are huge chunks of this show that are entirely in the dark. The audience, in those moments, are in Susy’s shoes. They have to rely entirely on what they are hearing, which is terrifying. I’m not often impressed by “gore” like most of my generation. The scariest movies/plays, in my opinion, are the ones that leave the violence up to your own imagination, which is usually scarier than anything anyone could show you. This play does just that.
I’ve often read that actors who make suspenseful movies actually think it’s quite funny to make them because of all the stopping and starting, camera tricks, etc. I’m guessing that it’s a different experience to be in a suspenseful play. Is it tough to maintain a state of anxiety each night?
It is not tough. At all. And I love it every night! As the play progresses, the anxiety is very genuine and appears without having to fake it. This is why I love and live to do live theater! There is no stopping and restarting, there’s no rest in between takes — there is no “Take Two.” Intermission is our only opportunity to rest, and that happens before things really start getting scary. This show is a freight train, and once it begins there is no going back. It really helps that Mohammad Shehata, who plays the creepiest of the three con men, is so extraordinary. He genuinely scares me each and every night — and I, of course, mean that in the best way!
What’s the most suspenseful experience you’ve ever had?
Well, this is a long story but I will tell the condensed version. When I was in college, a handful of my fellow Theater Majors (They know who they are!) played a HUGE prank on me. We were all hanging out at one of their houses and they made me believe that a person who had escaped a mental institution (which HAD actually happened that evening — it was on the news and there were helicopters everywhere) was roaming through my friend’s neighborhood. Mind you, this literally went on for hours — complete with doors being mysteriously unlocked, finding mysterious articles of clothing on the lawn and lots of scary noises! Again, long story short, it ended with me, out in the driveway, coming face-to-face with this “escaped patient”, crying and begging them not to hurt me. Of course, it was one of my friends in disguise. The moment I found out it was all a joke, I was, quite literally, seconds away from a complete breakdown. It was honestly one of the most terrifying moments in my entire life. I have to say, this short version really doesn’t really do the whole story justice. If you ever want to hear the full version ask me about it in person, complete with reenactments and impressions of all involved. I have some great friends. I still need to get them back for that one.
Tell us a little about your leading co-stars.
This cast is ridiculously talented. I’ll start with Mohammad. I mentioned him earlier. He plays the character “Mr. Roat.” He’s so incredibly talented and has such a great handle on the character. He just got back from the American College Theatre Festival regionals and won the Criticism Award and is going to Nationals in D.C. Go Mohammad!! We’ve got Michael Wirtz playing “Sgt. Carlino.” He’s a really great actor and I would definitely call him a class clown, of sorts. He makes everyone laugh! Plus he brings snacks for the cast just about every night. How could you not like that? What’s great about both of these gentleman, is it’s their GCP debut! It’s always fun and exciting working with new people. Then we’ve got this guy playing “Mike Talman.” Maybe you’ve heard of him…Peter Allwine? Any show is lucky to have him in the cast. He’s such a great performer and also brings the gift of humor to the cast. ( I swear I’m not biased because we’re a couple! He is really fantastic to work with!) Brian Rhea plays my hubby, “Sam Hendrix”. This is my second time working with him and I hope it’s not the last! He’s just closed “Red Velvet Cake War,” also at The 2nd Space — so he’s been a busy guy! We’ve got two Junior Company gals sharing the role of “Gloria”, Elena Aguirre and Chelsea Newton. They are both so delightful on and off the stage. I’ve really enjoyed working with them. Whichever one you see you will see fantastic acting. I can’t leave out our two policemen, Billy Anderson and Ethan Hardcastle. Roles are only small if the actor allows them to be small and they certainly don’t allow it. Our cast is small but mighty!
Did you watch the 1967 film that was adapted from this play before diving into this project?
I saw this movie a long time ago and I hadn’t seen it since I had been cast. I didn’t intend to watch it until our production closed. It’s the lovely and amazing Audrey Hepburn, and I know there will be comparisons but I didn’t need them happening in my own head. But it happened to be on TCM one night (What are the odds?) and I thought, “Oh…why not?” I’m actually glad I did. It is very different from the stage play in many ways. I am also a very different actress than Audrey Hepburn so I can’t say that I “stole” anything from her. I do love how genuine she comes off. She is so charming and just oozes class. I can only hope to exude a similar quality. It’s hard to compare the movie and the play for the reasons we talked about earlier about suspense movies vs. plays. The story is the same but the execution has to be so different that it makes it difficult to compare.
What can you tell me about the show’s creative design? Is it being staged as a period piece?
The play is set in the 60′s and we are keeping it there. GCP has such phenomenal designers — David Pierce, Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed and Jennifer Sullivan are taking us there by way of set, costumes and lighting. I’ve yet to see all of these elements together as we are just about to go into tech, so I can’t wait to see the world we have all built.
What’s the hardest thing for you as an actor in this play?
The hardest thing for me has been being able to see but completely ignoring it. Not seeing facial expressions or making eye contact with the other actors. If anything visually happens, if something drops I can’t just simply pick it up. It goes against all of my natural instincts. That has been the toughest part for me personally.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I can’t wait for people to see this. It’s not often you can go to the theater and be frightened and full of suspense. This is one of the most well rounded casts and crews I’ve worked with so I can’t gush about them enough. I’d say I’ll see you out there … but I won’t. Or at least I’ll try not to!