Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Wait Until Dark
Also see Mark's review of Repairing a Nation
Great Lakes Theater is presenting Wait Until Dark a little more than 50 years after it opened on Broadway with Lee Remick as the blind woman and Robert Duvall as Harry Roat, Jr., the chief bad guy. Remick received a Tony nomination for her performance. Wait Until Dark became a star film vehicle for Audrey Hepburn, who was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
Suzy Hendrix (Jodi Dominick) was blinded in a car accident. As she recovered, she became confused in an intersection and was rescued by Sam (Jonathan Dyrud), who later married her. He insisted she become independent, a "super-blind lady," in order to survive and be self-reliant in the world. In a Canadian airport Sam gets possession of a doll that, unknown to him, is filled with drugs. The woman who gave the doll to Sam promised to stop by for it in a day or two, but when she arrives, Sam and Suzy can't find it. Three thugs arrange for Sam, a photographer, to get much-needed commissions, which take him away from home. Then, Suzy should be easy pickings. But, alas, Michael (Nick Steen), one of the bad guys, develops a friendship with Suzy, who thinks he was in the Marines with Sam.
As this production reaches thrilling peak after thrilling peak, the lights go out, because Suzy can use her blindness as a weapon against the men who can see. The final five to ten minutes are played in almost complete darkness. When the show played on Broadway, the exit signs were turned off one at a time, as Suzy turns off the lights in her apartment. As the tensions mounted, I could hear the labored/tense breathing of the audience members seated around me. People were scared.
Unfortunately, the script is old and evokes late radio and early television drama. It was written just after the popularity peak of radio dramas, which modulated into TV soap operas. Television drama series like "Playhouse 90" and "Studio One" had a major influence on entertainment, including the stage. In radio and early television, conversation and talk powered drama and comedy. In Wait Until Dark, characters talk and talk and talk. The plot has little physical action until the last moments of the story. Consequently, it is character driven. Can a blind woman outwit three thugs who would kill her for the drug-filled doll?
The answer to that question is obvious. But, that's the fun of Wait Until Dark.
Dominick makes her character's blindness believable. She knows Suzy is smart, sophisticated and capable. She makes her outbursts of anger and frustration appropriate. During her long confrontation scene with Arthur Hanket as Harry Roat, Jr., she whimpers too much and this repetition annoys. However, this is the fault of the playwright, not the actors involved. Hanket gets to disguise himself and play two other villains, within his Roat, Jr. character. Hanket menaces appropriately.
Steen creates a lovable, friendly scoundrel. One thinks he could find redemption. No one could be more charming and more supportive of Suzy. Only at the end of the play does the playwright give us the obligatory scene in which Suzy admits she knows Mike is one of the thugs. By that time, Mike is so taken with Suzy that he promises to leave her unharmed and protect her from the other thugs. But, this is too little, too late. Steen's performance is right on key.
Elise Pakiela (Gloria) holds her own with the adults in the cast. As the annoying child who lives upstairs, Gloria becomes Suzy's eyes. But she helps create a world of problems for Suzy and Sam, despite her job of going grocery shopping (and with only a $5.00 bill).
Rick Martin deserves special kudos for lighting this show. He has done a first-rate job with one of the most difficult lighting assignments of this or any other season. Scenic designer Scott Bradley makes the basement apartment look appropriately like a basement. The metal rods extending from the floor to ceiling in design support the floor above and give Suzy markers on the stage. The set works well. However, would a blind woman really move into a basement with stairs, rods sticking out of the floor and other apartment problems?
Wait Until Dark has script problems that make it a strange choice for Great Lakes Theater. Even the movie, with the talented Audrey Hepburn, doesn't hold up well 50+ years later.
Wait Until Dark continues through March 12, 2017, at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square. For ticket information, telephone 216-241-6000 or visit www.greatlakestheater.org.
Playwright: Frederick Knott