EXCERPTS FROM THE FEATURE
The following are excerpts from the October 4, 2016 Baltimore Magazine feature on Wait Until Dark, when the Magazine's arts and culture editor, Gabriella Souza, sat down with Props Master Jillian Matthews to discuss the labor of love behind the thriller.
It’s only in the first scene of Wait Until Dark that we see the dead body. She hangs from a rope in the closet, her legs swelling beneath her panty hose and her face turning purple and blue from pooling blood. But her blonde curls and blue eye shadow are eerily still intact, giving us the sense that we are seeing a woman who has been dead for only minutes.
And that’s only the beginning of Everyman Theatre’s latest play. We haven’t even gotten to the gushing blood, the doll that doubles as a smuggling vessel, or the switchblade named Geraldine. All of this is the handiwork of props master Jillian Matthews, who has spent weeks of work perfecting objects with these macabre touches.
“I know it’s worth it when the audience shrieks,” says Matthews, who has worked with Everyman since the 2012 season. “My work is what makes the play that much more life-like and freaky.”
The play—which centers on a woman who is blind and becomes the target of a group of thugs who are looking for a doll containing hidden diamonds—takes place in the 1940s, so Matthews had to keep that in mind while fashioning the props. (Wait Until Dark closes this weekend, so this is your last chance to see this chilling thriller that's perfect for Halloween.) She hand-stitched smocked dress for the figure, adding an old-fashioned, curly-haired head and limbs to its cloth body, which has an opening in the back for the secret treasure she carries.
During the course of the play, a switchblade affectionately termed Geraldine makes an appearance several times, and when she does, gushing blood follows. Or rather, the thick, syrupy fake blood that sits in a jar in the refrigerator until the curtain rises. (Matthews says the production will likely use two liters.) In one scene, it’s released from a hole in the wall as a character is stabbed in the back, calling to mind every Wes Craven slasher movie from your childhood.
Matthews used a sex fetish face mask that resembled a female Michael Myers with better hair.
Matthews had a hand in fashioning Geraldine, too, or rather the intricately carved figure of a lady that decorates the switchblade. She carved a mold, using an risqué old photograph as a model, and then poured in a silicone substance.
And as for “Lisa”—the body that hangs in the closet—Matthews constructed her from some likely, and unlikely, materials. Along with a skeleton frame and padding to make her limbs appear more life-like, Matthews used a sex fetish face mask that resembled a female Michael Myers with better hair. And after a few coats of paint, “Lisa” came to life.
Matthews gauged her success by her co-workers’ reactions—they were so spooked, she says, “we had to cover her with a box at night.”