Listen up, guys and molls. Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has pumped lead, film noir lead, see, into that chestnut Wait Until Dark and it’s a looker. Youse need to leg it to Everyman Theatre because this show is the jakes.
Frederick Knott, of Dial M for Murder fame, wrote Wait Until Dark and set it in 1960s New York City. You may recall the tense 1967 movie starring Audrey Hepburn as Susan, a blind young woman besieged by some very bad men searching for something that may or may not be hidden in her apartment.
In adapting the play, Hatcher moved the action to Greenwich Village in 1944, giving it a film noir twist that heightens the suspense and paranoia as well as capturing the moral opacity and more sinister qualities of the post-World War II era.
The result is dark jolt of suspenseful fun that is scary and racy in a femme fatale sort of way.
Set designer Daniel Ettinger crafts an atmospherically dingy basement apartment in Greenwich Village that is full of pitfalls that Susan (Megan Anderson) must navigate—a short flight of stairs down into the apartment, a step-up to the kitchen, chairs and other pieces of furniture that must stay stationary or Susan bumps into them. Sound designer Patrick Calhoun amplifies the sounds of ringing phones and door buzzers, so we hear in the heightened way Susan does.
Clad in her Katherine Hepburn-esque high-waisted trousers and blouse (by costume designer Ben Argenta Kress), Susan gives off a Rosie the Riveter sense of can-do. Her photographer husband, Sam (Arturo Tolentino), encourages her to do things for herself and be independent.
Hatcher has Susan becoming blind after a car accident and meeting Sam in the hospital, where he was getting psychiatric treatment for his experiences during the war. This adds a certain vulnerability to their love story and marriage, adding to Susan’s feelings of fragility and transience.
Susan has to dig deep, therefore, when she becomes trapped in a group of gangsters’ efforts to retrieve something valuable hidden in a doll. Sam, it turns out, was duped by a dame on a train, who placed the doll in his satchel and noted his address on the luggage tag—intending to go to his apartment and fetch the doll.
While Sam is away on an all-day photo shoot in Connecticut, everyone shows up to get that doll, particularly Roat (Bruce Randolph Nelson), a bloodcurdlingly cruel assassin with a strange, courtly manner—and a switchblade named Geraldine—as well as Carlino (sleazily well-played by Todd Scofield), a former detective on the take.
They manipulate Susan by exploiting her blindness, using visual signals and stillness to throw her off. While Susan is visually impaired, her other senses are sharpened and she begins to piece together what really is happening around her and the danger she’s in.
At one point, she cleverly uses her blindness to turn the tables on Roat, plunging the apartment into darkness where she has the advantage over her attacker. This scene, where you only hear the sounds of a scuffle, is a genuine thrill that had audience members shrieking out loud.
Wait Until Dark
closes October 9, 2016
Details and tickets
Wait Until Dark could be seen as Susan being victimized and scammed but ultimately using her resources to prevail, but it is more nuanced than that. Setting the play in the moral unease and tenseness of the mid-1940s makes it unsettling and disturbing on a level deeper than a damsel in distress.
For one thing, no one is without guilt or above suspicion, not even the surly, foot-stamping neighbor girl Gloria (playing with glowing belligerence by Shannon Hutchinson), who helps Susan with errands, or husband Sam. Or even an old Army buddy of Sam’s, Mike (an abstrusely heroic Eric M. Messner), who drops by the apartment and gets caught up in the proceedings. We find out that Susan too, is capable of duplicity and cunning.
Everybody’s got a story and director Donald Hicken brings out the dual natures of the characters with style, while keeping up a snappy pace. Megan Anderson is so convincing as the blind Susan you hold your breath as she moves around the apartment and are truly concerned about her safety. Her Susan, however, is not a victim. Vulnerable, certainly, but intuitive and resourceful as she copes with mortal danger as well as adjusting to her fairly recent disability.
Anderson is perfectly matched with Nelson as the killer Roat, using his elegant diction as a pointy weapon as he slinks around the apartment flexing his black-gloved hands.
Even though it seems odd to recommend a show with gangsters, gats and shivs as family fare, much of the show’s violence and sexual undertones are implied or take place in the dark. The audience’s imagination more than amply fills in the blanks and hours after Wait Until Dark you might find yourself feeling a little creeped out walking into a dark room.
Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher . Directed by Donald Hicken . Featuring: Megan Anderson, UI-Seng Francois, Shannon Hutchinson, Eric M. Messner, Bruce Randolph Nelson, Todd Scofield, Arturo Tolentino . . Set Design: Daniel Ettinger. Lighting Design: Jay A. Herzog. Costume Design: Ben Argenta Kress. Sound Design: Patrick Calhoun. Fight Choreography: Lewis Shaw. Props Master: Jillian Mathews. Dramaturgy: Johanna Gruenhut. Stage Manager: Amanda M. Hall . Produced by Everyman Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.