Dakota Saunders rehearses for KHT’s dramatic reading of The Hitchhiker (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

For most of the 2019 season, Keizer Homegrown Theater (KHT) has put together lighthearted shows for their audiences, often featuring tales of comedy and romance.

But in honor of Halloween, director Jeff Minden has put together a pair of thrillers that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

KHT will be doing staged readings of both The Hitchhiker and Sorry, Wrong Number, with 7 p.m. showings on Oct. 11, 12, 18 and 19, as well as 2 p.m. shows on Oct. 13 and Oct. 20. 

“We were just trying to find something that would be a good fit for an October show. It's got a great Twilight Zone vibes and also some (Alfred) Hitchcock vibes. I've always liked the creepy and suspenseful shows and thought that it would be a lot of fun to do something different and try to evoke a different reaction out of our audience.” Minden said.

The Hitchhiker stars Dakota Saunders playing the role of Ronald Adams, a 36-year old man that embarks on a cross country road trip. Along the way, he sees a hitchhiker on multiple different occasions. If it's the same man, Adams wonders how he always able to stay one step ahead of him without the use of a car. He believes that he is losing his mind, but comes to find out something far more sinister may be at play. 

“I was absolutely in love with the script. It was something that really spoke to me as an actor,” said Saunders, who is in his first ever role as a lead actor. “It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of responsibility. Keeping the pace and setting the tone for the show is very key.”

Sorry, Wrong Number features Julia Sargent portraying Mrs. Stevenson, a neurotic, invalid woman who's only companion while her husband is away on business is the telephone. One night, because of a crossed wire, she hears a plan for a murder. Frantically, she tries to get help for what she just heard, and soon realizes that the murder plot may be intended for her. 

“It has been really interesting to delve into a character that is sick, but also has a lot of entitlement. So I want to portray someone that is not only entitled, but also vulnerable and someone that you want to feel sorry for,” Sargent said. 

Traditional scripted readings often times just feature characters that stand up and read their lines when it's their turn. However, Minden promises that this production will be much more than that. 

“We have been referring to them as enhanced stage readings. Actors still have scripts, but there are costumes and a full set with lighting, music and sound effects,” Minden said. “It's a way for us as we try to grow as a theater to put together more shows in a season more quickly and easily. We're just trying to add more layers to it to keep people on their toes.”

Julia Sargent will be playing the role of Mrs. Stevenson in Sorry, Wrong Number (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

Even though he's been a part of many shows as an actor, this production will be Minden's first as an director. 

“It's been a learning experience for me, but its been a lot of fun. It's all about looking at the big picture, not just what one person is doing, but how all the pieces come together,” Minden said. “Everyone has been fantastic to work with. They all bring a lot of energy to their characters and a lot of passion. I feel like everyone just got the vision right away.”

Both performances will look a little bit different as Saunders will often be narrating the story of his character, while Sargent's role will mainly focus on dialogue. But each production still has the ability to give the audience goosebumps according to Minden and Saunders. 

“I would tell the average theater lover to buckle up, because it's like nothing you have ever seen before,” Saunders said. “Jeff has a vision that is unlike anything that I have ever had the opportunity to work with. If you are a lover of theater, you will definitely want to see this.”

Minden also added: “I'm really hoping at the end of each act that the audience will be holding their breath to see what happens next. We're really trying to add some nice twists to it, so if you're a fan of suspense or thrillers or anything October- or Halloween-related, come on out and have some fun and enjoy the show.”