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TNT will light up Robins with ‘Wait Until Dark’

What once was the norm will be a rarity next week — a local theater group will take the stage and perform a show in front of a live audience.

Of course, nothing in the arts is normal these days, so Trumbull New Theatre had to find an alternative site in order to stage the Frederick Knott thriller “Wait Until Dark.”

TNT, which has called Niles homes since 1957, will do five performances starting Nov. 19 at the Robins Theatre in downtown Warren. Under current state guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TNT would be limited to an audience of less than 25 people in its intimate theater. Fifteen percent capacity at the Robins, which reopened in January after a two-year renovation effort, is more folks than TNT can accommodate with a sold-out house.

“It’s just a magnificent place,” said Ron Sinesio, who is directing the show. “It’s so beautiful, the work they’ve done.”

The cast and crew had to make plenty of adjustments from the usual routine. The actors have been rehearsing at TNT and the set, designed by Tom Engstrom, was constructed in Niles and transported to Warren last Saturday. The cast had its first rehearsal on the Robins stage on Monday. And the actors will be wearing microphones in order to project to the back rows of the 1,350-capacity theater.

“Wait Until Dark” is the story of the criminals searching for heroin hidden inside a doll. A man was tricked into bringing the drug-filled doll into the country from Canada, and it’s now in the possession of Susy, his blind wife, in their New York apartment. The criminals pose as law enforcement officers and others in order to get Susy to reveal where they can find the doll.

The play had a yearlong run on Broadway in 1966 (with a cast that included Lee Remick and Robert Duvall) and spawned an Oscar-nominated film the following year starring Audrey Hepburn.

Sinesio originally picked the show because of its commercial appeal.

“I think the show is exciting and thrilling, and TNT audiences respond to those murder-mystery thrillers,” he said. “I picked the show because we wanted a very commercial season, and I thought the title would draw well.”

It turned out to be good choice for adhering to social distancing guidelines. While there are are physical scenes, it’s not a play that requires intimacy between characters.

“For our first show during the pandemic, no kissing probably was a good thing,” Sinesio said. “I would have been skeptical of doing something where there has to be kissing involved.”

The cast used masks in the early rehearsals and wore partial face shields when Sinesio started blocking the show.

“Last week they all felt comfortable taking the face shields off,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone get sick.”

The cast features Liz Conrad, Jim Fogarty, Thomas Burd, Jim Ewing, Hannah Corbett, Brian Suchora, Jim Kilgore and Susan De Leo. The assistant director is Patricia Latham with Robert Spain as stage manager, Tom DeNicholas as sound designer, H. Keith Bowers on lights and Karen Johnson McMorran and Peg McGinnis as costumers.

“Liz (who plays Susy) can do almost anything,” Sinesio said. “There were times at TNT where I would swear she was blind. And I think it will work very well (at the Robins).”

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