Shannon Pauls had seen the 1960s thriller Wait Until Dark, which starred Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman victimized by drug-dealing thugs. So, when Theatre in the Country announced it would bring the story to the stage this October, Pauls knew it was time to end her year-long hiatus from the theatre.
Pauls will star as the blind Susy in the Theatre in the Country production of the Frederick Knott suspense thriller, which opens Thursday.
Pauls has been seen on the stage in musicals in roles such as Mrs. Sowerberry in Oliver, and Mrs. Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. Playing a blind woman is a formidable new challenge.
“I want to develop more skills – hone in on my acting,” she said.
Fortunately – for her stage performance – when Pauls takes off her prescription glasses “the world becomes quite fuzzy and foreign,” which is a help.
In her work at a group home, she has spent time with visually impaired clients, and has some experience with facial expressions, body language and vocal expressions that she can draw on.
Pauls re-watched the classic film, to see how the character of Susy evolved from start to finish. She also found a video of how Hepburn prepared for the role. Hepburn was nominated for a best actress Oscar in 1968 for the film. She lost to Katharine Hepburn in the classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.
But Pauls is becoming her own version of Susy, not Hepburn’s.
“I really wanted to make it my own, and I don’t think of her when I’m on the stage,” she said.
Wait Until Dark is a thriller with a shocking ending. The plot summary by the theatre company:
Susy was recently blinded and recently married. Her husband, Sam (John Tabak), is asked to hold a doll for a woman he doesn’t know as they get off an airplane. The woman disappears. Later, she’s found dead by her former associates, Mike (Graham Coates) and Carlino (Harry Perring), small-time hoods.
Harry Rote (Josh Osborne), who murdered her for self-dealing, presses Mike and Carlino into a scheme to recover the doll, which contains a fortune in smuggled heroin. The thugs return while Susy is present to continue their search. They assume Susy’s blindness will enable them to search her apartment for the doll under her very nose. Rote is a predator, and his stalking of Susy becomes ever more obvious as the blind woman’s predicament becomes ever more desperate.
“From the moment it starts to the moment it ends they must pay attention to what’s said,” Pauls said. “It’s very much a thriller.”
Local actor Jessica Tabak makes her directorial debut in the play.
Thursday, Oct. 8 is the dessert preview, known as Chills and Chocolate for $25, and opening night will be Oct. 9. There are full roast beef buffet dinners, or theatre only tickets. The show will generally be offered on Friday and Saturday evenings through the month, until the last showing on Halloween night. The theatre is located at 9975 272 St.
• For details see theatreinthecountry.com.