I enjoyed the diversity of two local productions on the weekend… each one produced with well thought out skill and strong performances.

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Wait Until Dark

From l, Kaylena Rose Mann and Liza de Weerd in “Wait Until Dark.”

Chillingly written by Frederick Knott, this excellent and intriguing effort… a real “nail biter,” had us on the edge of our seats from start to finish! It originally ran on Broadway in 1966, starring Lee Remick and Robert Duvall, and as a hit film in 1967, starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin and Richard Crenna. The Group Rep’s current offering of it some 45 years later, succeeds in bringing back the suspenseful “goose bumps,” tension and total involvement… with flying colors! We witness the spine tingling saga of a blind Greenwich Village housewife’s home invasion by three ex-cons searching for a child’s doll stuffed with heroin. With her husband out of town (a likable Bert Emmett), Susy is left to her own cunning instincts and self defense tactics to stay alive. With the help of Gloria, a precocious 9 year old neighbor (a sassy and sensational Kaylena Rose Mann); Susy plots to outsmart the villains. Under the tension packed direction of David Colwell (assisted by Luise Heath), this strong cast mesmerized the audiences throughout! Robert Gallo plays Roat, the heartless and tough “crime boss”… Chris Winfield plays Mike, who fakes his identity by feigning a past friendship with Susy’s husband… and Leo Weltman, falsely disguised as a police sergeant… all give focused and frightening performances! Now, let’s talk about the baffling brilliance of Liza de Weerd as Susy Hendrix… the gutsy and intuitive blind woman in peril in the Audrey Hepburn role. Having “wowed” audiences here recently in The Trip to Bountiful, she is once again breathtakingly believable! In an award worthy depiction, her focused blind stare, instincts and uncanny ability seem to have no limits! A young Meryl Streep emerges! Rounding out the cast in smaller roles… Matias Ponce and Jeff Warren appear briefly as police officers. (Ladies… these are two “hunky” young guys!) Behind the scenes “mood setting kudos” go to: Chris Winfield for a fabulous and detailed set design, Diana Martin (appealing costumes), Tim Christianson (spooky lighting), Steve Shaw (crisp sound) and Payson Burt (fight choreography). For a suspenseful, riveting theatrical experience… I highly recommend this compelling production! Running through May 8 at The Lonny Chapman Theatre located at 10900 Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood. For seats, call (818) 700-4878 or go to www.thegrouprep.com.

All in the Timing

From l, Dane Stauffer as Milton, Mikhail Roberts as Swift and Jacquelyn Zook as Kafka in “All in the Timing.”

A “brainy but bonkers” collection of six thought provokingly funny “one acts” penned by Chicago’s David Ives — he is considered to be one of America’s finest playwrights working in short form. This zany grouping of his stories is comedically “brain teasing” and open to varied interpretations. Admittedly, although cleverly entertaining and well performed, at times I was confused as to their intended message as they exploded on our psyches with razor sharp speed. I fear I’m a bit too “literal,” but you wildly imaginative “brainiacs” will undoubtedly love this production. Eight gifted and animated actors play the various roles with wild abandon, under the creative and ambitious Co-Direction of William A. Reilly and Ben Rovner… splitting the directorial tasks. Hilarious praise to the entire cast! They are: Dane Staffer, Jeff Torres, Katy Foley, Mikhail Roberts, Jacquelyn Zook, Douglas Thornton, Lucy Chambers and Tim Polzin. Let me try to summarize the “heady” scenes to pique your curiosity:

1. The Philadelphia

Two brash young guys in a restaurant, seeming to abuse their waitress… function in a “head space” where blatant rudeness is the “norm.” Asking for the total opposite from what they really want… we “get it” in the end.

2. Universal Language

A woman shows up to inquire about a class, teaching a new universal language called “unamundo.” Insanely funny… it is “Gibberish” taught by a kooky male teacher, which sounds just barely familiar enough to grasp its meaning… eventually. A laugh a minute scene!

3. Phillip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread

Entirely performed in “sing-song” conversation, the famous minimalistic conductor enters a bakery to buy a loaf of bread. Fast paced, puzzling and trippy!

4. Sure Thing

In a series of speedy vignettes, a man attempts to “hook up” with a sexy gal reading a novel in a bar. Offering a varied and very funny view of the “games men and women play”… I liked this one a lot!

5. Variations on the Death of Trotsky

Trotsky, a 1940s historical figure, and his wife ponder the rumors of his untimely death, discussing his possible demise. Madly dashing about with a mountain climber’s axe lodged firmly in his head… Could his assassin be Ramone, the handsome gardener?

6. Words, Words, Words

In my favorite scene… based on the infinite “monkey theory,” three monkeys — potential authors — at typewriters attempt to come up with a classic book. Working as copy producers for a cold and thankless boss… their “monkey-like” antics and excitable behavior… is beyond screamingly funny! I could see this scene again and again!

By the wildly imaginative topics… you can see why it’s so challenging to give you a brief overview of each skit. I guess you’ll just have to go experience the madness for yourselves. The entire, highly innovative evening is maniacally funny! Worthy technical efforts all around: colorfully crazy costumes (Caitlin Erin O’Hare and Tanya Apuya), lighting (Zad Potter), sound (Sean Finn) and “cutting edge” set design (Keiko Moreno) set the mood with perfection! So… have a stiff cocktail for “focus,” and catch this cleverly concocted production! Running though May 1 at Crown City Theatre located at 11031 Camarillo St. in North Hollywood. For seats, call (818) 605-5685.

More to come next time…

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