Niagara Gazette — L. Don Swartz could tell you more about the plot of his newest play, “Deep End of the Dark” ... but then he’d have to kill you.
And that would mean one less potential audience member.
“It’s a psychological thriller,” he said. “My biggest fear is that it’s spoiled for somebody. So don’t tell anybody. Let them have the fun. My hope is that the audience members are cool about that and don’t spoil it for people who haven’t seen it yet.”
Swartz wrote, directed and appears in the play, which premiered Thursday at the Ghostlight Theatre in North Tonawanda and continues through Oct. 27. It’s the theater’s 27th annual October thriller, but a departure from the usual types of Halloween stories for which the theater on Schenk is so well-suited.
“It’s kind of the opposite of the ‘spooky old house’ stories,” he said. “I thought the audience might be getting tired of that. So I thought, ‘What is the opposite of the spooky old house stories?’
“So the set came first. That’s probably the first time that’s ever happened. Then I had to challenge myself to come up with a story.”
Swartz does divulge a little — very little — of the plot. Two couples are stalked by a killer on a weekend camping trip on an island. It’s dark. There are tents, trees and a campsite (featuring a fire effect Swartz is very proud of, involving a projector, mirrors and video of an actual fire). Beyond that ... well ... he’s not saying much.
“There are 30,000 islands on Lake Huron and the story takes place on one of them,” he said. “The couples think they’re alone on the island. Of course, they’re not. That wouldn’t be any fun.”
The show features the smallest cast ever for a Ghostlight show, with only five people — Swartz, Katherine Quattrini, Debby Koszelak Swartz, Mark Woomer and Jesse Swartz.
Woomer — who also warned that he couldn’t give many details away — said that the cast is “awesome” and there’s a great deal of trust amidst the actors and actresses. “There has to be.”
“It’s a great plot ... which we cannot discuss ... but it’s a great plot with a lot of twists and turns to it. You have to pay attention,” he said, adding that Swartz challenges a lot of the audience’s assumptions within the first five minutes. “That’s his way of showing the audience, we’re going to throwing things at you, you need to pay attention. This is a thinking thriller.”
Presenting a show like this, Swartz said, is all about building the tension. The audience sits in the dark for the first 60 seconds of the play, with layered sound effects around them, letting that atmosphere build.
“Even in rehearsal, that 60 seconds feels like it goes on forever,” he said. “There’s a lot of ‘something can happen.’ And does it happen? If you can get in their minds rather than just jump out and yell, ‘Boo!’ ... that’s where the psychological thriller comes in.”
In addition, Swartz said he believes live theater has “an edge” when it comes to thrillers because of the immediacy of the surroundings.
“You’re in the room. You see the bad guy, the knife, the guy, the guy behind the curtain,” he said. “You could affect the action, if you wanted to ... you could stand up and say, ‘he’s behind the curtain’ ... and that involves you on such a deep level. You can do that in the movies all night long and not make an difference. In the theater, you’re an eyewitness.”
While Swartz promises twists and surprises, and playing around with people’s perspectives of the characters, he also swears that when audience members look back, they’ll be able to put all those pieces together.
“I want to play fair,” he said. “If the audience goes back through it, they’ll see everything was there. Everything was above-board. There was no cheating. Everything was there.”
“Deep End of the Dark” will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $14 general admission and $12 for veterans, students and seniors. They can be reserved online at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling 743-1614.IF YOU GO • WHAT: "Deep End of the Dark" by L. Don Swartz • WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday • WHERE: Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda • TICKETS: Tickets are $14 general admission, $12 for veterans, students and seniors. They can be reserved online at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling 743-1614.