Earlier this week I got an email from “stage management” of Court Theatre in Chicago. The Hyde Park company is staging the play Wait Until Dark — they were wondering if I’d be willing to come by at rehearsal to, well, you know, show them the ropes. Chicago’s Metromix describes the play like this:
A cool-as-ice psychopath smooth talks his way into the home of an unsuspecting blind woman who’s unknowingly harboring a dangerous prize in this classic thriller by Frederick Knott (later adapted to film by Terence Young starring Audrey Hepburn).
I’m pretty sure I’m not harboring a dangerous prize in our apartment (unless you count Hanni, when she’s sprinting to her food bowl at meal time) and I feel fortunate to have no expertise in anything psychopathic. I do, however, know what it’s like to be newly blind and married to a man who can see. And that’s what the cast wanted to know about. From Open Rehearsal, the Court Theatre blog:
It’s a new kind of show for Court Theatre: a populist Broadway hit that most people know from the movie version, and also a thriller…usually a star vehicle (Marisa Tomei played the lead in a disastrous New York production a few years ago), but we’ve cast non-Equity up-and-comer Emjoy Gavino in the lead role of Susy, the blind woman attacked by con artists.
At rehearsal we just sat in a circle and talked. One actor — he might have been the guy playing the psychopath — asked, “If someone was standing in your apartment, not moving, and not saying a word, is there someway you would just sense they were there?” Nope.
Another cast member asked, “If a person you’d met before came your way again, but this time disguised his voice, would you know it was him?” Absolutely not, I told them. I’m horrible with voices. On my street here in Printers Row, passers-by often call out a friendly “Hello, Beth!” Unless they tell me who they are, I really have no idea who is greeting me.
If they disguised their voices? I’d be totally clueless. “But that’s just me,” I reminded them. “I don’t speak for all blind people.” We all have different skills we use to make our way — the cast seemed to understand exactly what I meant.
“How do you think the friends you’ve made since you were blind are different than the friends you made when you could see?” This question came from Emjoy, and was a little more difficult to answer. After thinking it over a bit, I said, “I think the friends I’ve met since I lost my sight are surprised to find out they actually like me.” The minute that came out of my mouth I knew it didn’t make sense. So I tried to explain. “It’s kind of like if I were the first black kid to go to an all-white high school. People want to meet me so they can think they’re cool, they’re open-minded, you know, they can tell other people that they have a friend who has a disability.”
One of the guys around the circle laughed. “You’re telling our story!” he said. I wasn’t sure what he meant, exactly, so just continued. “And then if they take the time to get to know me, they’re surprised to find out they like me.” Another cast member phrased it better. “They’re surprised to find out there’s more to you than being blind.” I nodded.
We sat in that circle for almost two hours – they’d ask questions, I’d answer, we’d get off subject, then back on track again. “This is probably a dumb question…” they’d start off, then ask some of the most interesting questions I’ve heard since losing my sight. Time up, they had to get back to work and rehearse.
As I buttoned my coat to head out with Hanni, I thought about that guy who said I was “telling their story” and realized I had a dumb question of my own. “Is the whole cast black?” I asked. I suppose the question kind of proved the point I was trying to make earlier, you know, about my inability to narrow in on a person’s identity by the sound of their voice. Emjoy said no. “I’m Filipina,” she explained. “But my husband in the play is black.” Another cast member chimed in. “One cop is White,” he said. “The other is Black.” Gloria, the little girl who comes down and visits from the apartment upstairs, is Hispanic. “Did you cast it this way on purpose, or did it just by coincidence, those are the people who tried out?” I ask. The director had left the room by then, but they called him back to answer that one.
Ron OJ Parson is known as one of Chicago’s best directors of realism and is nationally known for his work directing the plays of August Wilson. Ron told me this play is traditionally done with an all-white cast. “But it’s a new era — we’ve got a black president now!” He said it was in that spirit that he decided to cast Emjoy, a Filipina, in Audrey Hepburn’s role. “We didn’t have to change a single line in the play to make this work,” Ron said. “And if you think of it, this play is set in Greenwich Village in the 60s – these are the sorts of people you would see there.”
I’ve been invited to come back to rehearsal once they get the stage set — they’ll observe how I find my way around the set. You know, to get ideas of how we blind folks maneuver. And then, of course I hope to be in the audience opening night — that’s March 14, and you can attend previews before that if you’d like. There’s more information about tickets and all that on the Court Theatre web site.