Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Wait Until Dark
Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation changes the time period of the play, moving it back twenty years to 1944, and makes a few other slight changes in the plot, including an excellent updated act one ending that packs a punch. Set in a basement apartment in 1940s Greenwich Village, Wait Until Dark is the story of blind Susan Hendrix and her unfortunate encounter with some criminals hunting for a mysterious, very valuable doll. Susan's husband Sam innocently brought the doll into their house after a woman he sat next to on a train put it in his satchel for safe keeping. The woman later came to their apartment to pick it up, only to be told that it had gone missing. Sam and Susan have no idea that the doll is filled with something of extreme value; that the woman who came to pick up the doll has been murdered; and that con artists, including a sociopathic killer, are planning to do whatever necessary to get the doll from them. And all of that happens before the play actually begins. Disguising themselves as various seemingly harmless characters, the men work their way into Susan's apartment, while continually searching for the doll, literally right in front of her. Knott deftly uses Susan's blindness as a perfect theatrical conceit to raise the chills several notches, since the audience sees the deceitful and horrific events unfolding before Susan that she cannot. Hatcher's adaptation has eliminated a few holes in Knott's original plot, and by setting it in the 1940s has added the elements of film noir and the impact of World War II into the mix, both added bonuses. And, while some of situations still seem unfathomable today (including Susan's continual habit of letting strangers through her door), it still makes for a gripping theatrical endeavor.
Brooke Parks is impressive as Susan. With a forward and direct delivery of her lines and an excellent stage presence, she portrays this very strong woman who is also incredibly smart though a bit too trustworthy at first. As she slowly realizes what is going on around her, Parks effectively shows how the independent Susan uses her blindness as an advantage and ratchets up her defenses so as not to become a victim herself.
As the men who come into Susan's life, Ted Koch is good as the deranged con artist Roat. He gets to play several different characters as part of Roat's plan to deceive Susan and, in a testament to Koch's abilities, each one looks and acts completely different. While Koch does project an appropriate sense of menace and rage as the out of control Roat, I just wish there were more of a sense of danger in his performance so I could truly believe he would actually do harm to Susan. Craig Bockhorn adds a bit of humor as the slightly bumbling, neurotic lowlife Carlino, which helps to balance out the tension of the play. As Mike, a soldier on leave from the Marines who has come to New York to see Susan's husband Sam, Peter Rini gets to play the male character with the most range as well as the one with the most stage time. He nicely displays the deep sense of sincerity Mike begins to feel toward Susan once he spends more time with her.
Also in the cast is Lauren Schaffel as the bratty teenager Gloria. She lives above Susan and Sam and sneaks into the apartment without Susan noticing to play tricks on her. Schaffel effects a squeaky young voice to portray the teen, evokes a perfect sense of selfishness in the role, and conveys a nice change in the character when Susan asks for her help. Local Phoenix actor Joseph Kremer does well in his brief scenes as Susan's husband Sam.
Director David Ira Goldstein is successful with his staging, effectively using just about every inch of Vicki Smith's superb basement apartment set to let the action unfold. He also gets nuanced performances from most of his cast, especially Parks and Rini. Even though the updated adaptation fixes a few of the shortfalls in the original script, the first act still takes a very long time to set up all of the plot elements and is overly talky, and unfortunately, Goldstein can't really do anything to remedy those issues.
Smith's set features many excellent period specific props and furnishings and includes the underside of the stairs to the floor above in the set's ceiling design. Don Darnutzer's lighting design provides plenty of "noir"-ish dark and moody moments, with shadows from outside streaming into the apartment through the venetian blinds, plus the appropriate thrill-inducing scenes, including a few in near total darkness. Marcia Dixcy Jory's costumes are perfect, including many designs of the era, from Mike's Marine uniform to the various suits and hats the men wear, along with Susan's '40s style dresses and seamed stockings. The design choices are impressive.
Even though both of Knott's plays have a few holes in them, are overly talky, and are probably better known for their screen adaptations, the revised adaptation of Wait Until Dark is an improvement on the original. Experiencing the play live, with the thrilling climactic sequence playing out in front of you in near total darkness, is something you just can't get from the film version. The Arizona Theatre Company production has a more than competent cast, lush design elements and good direction, and, even with just a few shortfalls, still manages to be chilling and full of suspense.
ATC is presenting the play in partnership with the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York where this production played prior to its run here.
Wait Until Dark at Arizona Theatre Company runs through November 30th, 2014, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling 602-2566995.
By Frederick Knott
Cast: (in order of appearance)
*Member Actors Equity Association