For her role as a visually impaired woman in the Forum Theatre’s production of “Wait Until Dark,” Shanna Berry did her homework by watching YouTube videos.
But she also had plenty of inspiration in her day job as national sales account manager for South Texas Lighthouse for the Blind, a Corpus Christi-based organization that provides employment, education and empowerment to those with visual difficulties.
“That has come in handy,” said Berry, who telecommutes in her job. “The little time I do spend in observation, I try to pick their brains a little bit.”
“Wait Until Dark,” which opens Thursday and runs through Feb. 26, is based on Frederick Knott’s 1966 play, which inspired a movie the following year with Audrey Hepburn as heroine Susan. The Forum version of “Dark” is an adaptation that debuted at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2013 but whose time frame was adjusted to the 1940s rather than the ’60s.
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In the play, thieves believe that Susan is in possession of their big score (the subject of which has also been changed from the film) and stage psychological warfare on her vulnerable state until she uses the darkness to her advantage.
“Her blindness ends up being an asset,” Berry said. “I absolutely love that, because it is seen as a disability among the seeing, but in this particular show, it really does emphasize that.”
The staging of “Wait Until Dark” brings the audience into Susan’s world, actor Ray Wills said.
“You’re in the dark as much as she is,” said Wills, who plays several roles and was inspired by Alan Arkin’s portrayal in the movie. “The stage is black and you see flashes of light from a refrigerator or another light, and you’re as much in the dark as the blind girl.”
Berry, a critically acclaimed actress from Chicago, is familiar to Forum audiences from roles in “Hands on a Hard Body,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
“It has been a very rewarding challenge” in her current role, she said. “I welcome any challenge, and this is something that’s definitely new for me. I’ve never had a visually impaired character before, and I’m really excited about it. Staying honest and making it as real as possible has been my biggest concern. The blindness is realistically portrayed.”
Forum artistic director Kathryn Page Hauptman said “Wait Until Dark” has as much inspiration as it has chills.
“The killers, the bad guys, think she’s going to be an easy mark because she’s blind,” Hauptman said. “But they don’t realize how smart she is. She has all these tricks and ways she has to make it through the play, and she’s the opposite of helpless, really.
“There’s not a lot of insecurity to her,” she added about the character. “There is going to be a certain level of fear involved, when she doesn’t realize what’s happening, but all in all, she’s a strong character.”
The intimacy of the Forum’s new home at the Wilke Family Life Center at Wichita’s First United Methodist Church will add to the suspense, Hauptman said.
The black box-style area was first used by the company in November and December for its world premiere of the musical “Christmas Letters.”
“People loved the space. They loved the intimacy and that you could drive right into the parking lot and in a couple of steps be at the door,” she said.
The company had most recently used the Mary Jane Teall Theatre in Century II as its performance space.
“I think we’ll have a home for a while,” Hauptman said of the Wilke center. “It’s going to be good for us not having to go from place to place. It’ll give us a chance to brand ourselves again and give ourselves a little bit of security, which should be good.”
‘Wait Until Dark’
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 26
Where: Wilke Center, First United Methodist Church, 330 N. Broadway
What: Forum Theatre production of psychological thriller
Tickets: $15 for opening night on Thursday, $25 for Fridays-Saturdays, $23 for Thursdays and Sundays; tickets available at forumwichita.com or 316-618-0444