Set in 1940s New York, a world of con-men and mobsters and in many ways an uncertain and suspenseful time period, The Vertigo’s production of Wait Until Dark is an edge-of-your-seat performance. Many aspects of the play caught me off guard (in a good way), and the presentation was very realistic. Multiple components were put into the program to create this effect, and were intentionally and skillfully used to bring out the features of the plot in the best way possible. Watching Vertigo Calgary’s rendition of this mystery play, I gained valuable insight into modern drama, which influenced my own personal decisions in directing a version of Medea. The three specific components I will address in this performance which will influence my own artistic decisions are the set design, the lighting effects, and the usage of props.
Watching Wait Until Dark, I was initially skeptical of its execution, as the play was advertised as a suspenseful thriller. I was unsure how this genre would be presented in the context of a single set with a blind protagonist. The set itself was one static scene, and was designed to be the living room of a basement suite apartment. Including an entryway, a small living space, a kitchenette, and a faux hallway leading to other unseen rooms, the space was used very well to enhance the components of the plot itself, with each part of the set becoming familiar to the audience and used for a purpose. Since the main character is blind, she must feel her way upon each feature of the room, which adds a certain extra value to what would otherwise be normal features of a house. These tactile features of the home become important as the plot unfolds as the characters must make use of what is known – with or without the lights. This usage of the set certainly intrigued me, and I think it would be amazing to attempt a performance of Medea all in one space. Besides scenes such as the Queen’s murder, I think this is something that would be possible, given the dialogue-driven scenes and poignant action-oriented moments. In order to do this, everyone could come to Medea as the play unfolds, and the chorus could be consistently present. I think that by using the set in this way, Wait Until Dark allowed the viewer to become an empathetic part of the protagonist’s world, which I would personally love to include in Medea.
Another notable feature of Wait Until Dark was its usage of lighting. One of the main reasons that protagonist Susy Hendrix begins to suspect she is being taken advantage of is the fact that certain lights are left on or off – she consistently asks trusted companions (such as her upstairs nuisance child-neighbor Gloria) exactly how light or dark the room actually is. The lighting also lends to the play’s general mood from scene to scene, with those in low lighting evoking a sense of mystery, others in full lighting to highlight certain dialogue or the time of day. There are key scenes that additionally take place in complete darkness, during the moments of highest suspense. The audience is left in the dark themselves during these moments (both literally and figuratively), and perhaps the most suspenseful scene of the play is Susy’s cornering of her potential murderer. Happening completely in the dark, Susy’s plans are thwarted by the villain’s opening of the refrigerator – the one light source that Susy forgot to account for in her scheme. This moment is packed with sickly surprise, and the lighting completely gives itself to this scene’s sense of thrill. Matches are also used to illuminate a “chase-scene” within the house while the threat of murder is looming, and the inability to see clearly does create an uncomfortable and charged atmosphere. This would be an incredible component of a modern-day interpretation of Medea, specifically using low lighting or shadows in a dramatic sense during the suspenseful or more villainous scenes of Medea’s rage towards Jason. Just like in Wait Until Dark, full and comfortable lighting could be used to highlight dialogue – but lower lighting or alternate light sources (perhaps a torch or the like) could equally be used to illustrate the action-oriented scenes.
Lastly, a powerful element of Wait Until Dark was its usage of stage props. Like the set itself, props were used so effectively in this performance, notably with a blind protagonist. A significant prop was the telephone in the apartment. An old turn-dial phone, this prop was used symbolically as the only connection the apartment had to the outside world. Yet, it was also used as a code-sending mechanism by almost every character. Like the phone; the window over the sink, the refrigerator, and even the piping along the wall were used in a similar fashion. On one level, these props were used in their conventional manner, yet on another they were also used unconventionally – sending coded messages and creatively making use of their alternative functions (i.e. as a weapon, a light source, or a sound-maker). I believe this could also be used effectively in Medea as well, although perhaps more so with costumes and makeup, as there are not a large amount of props written into the script. Items such as the poisoned crown that Medea sends as a gift for the Queen could certainly be stylized to become more symbolic – but the usage of costumes to highlight character contrasts (i.e. that Medea is a foreigner in her land through distinct garb and makeup) could be another use of props that could truly outline and extenuate the features of the play, just as Wait Until Dark used its props to do.
Overall, I believe the strength of Wait Until Dark’s artistic direction draws from its intentional usage of the set, lighting, and props as components to bring out the best of the plot and this is an aspiration I would desire to utilize in my modern production of Medea.