“Wait Until Dark,” the heart-bounding, breath-catching, psycho-drama penned by Frederick Knott, is the 79th Season opener for the Lakewood Playhouse.
Knott, who also authored “Dial M for Murder,” is known for his complex, crime-related plots. This griping tale lives up to the dramatist’s reputation.
Susy Hendrix is a young woman tragically blinded in an auto accident some half a year prior to the audience entering the story. She is recently married to Sam, a photographer who travels for his work and to increase his photo-folio. They live in the lower apartment of a Greenwich Village townhouse; a mother and her pre-teen daughter, Gloria, live in the upper level.
When he is away, Sam relies on Gloria to run errands for his sightless wife and to generally keep her company. Unfortunately, Gloria can be a rebellious child with a trick-playing mind just short of sadistic.
Sam recently returned from a trip to Canada where a woman asked him to carry a doll back to the States for her. Gloria, thinking the doll is a gift for her, is so disappointed when she is rebuked, that she purloined the musical baby and sequestered it in her apartment.
Three conmen, Harry Roat, Mike Talman and Carlino, enter the story. Roat has contrived to get the other two to meet in the Hendrix’s apartment, while the couple is out, in order to get them to work with him to find the doll – and to get rid of the dead body in the bedroom, which happens to be of the woman who gave the doll to Sam.
Knott comes into full bloom from this point on. The playwright brings out the demonic character of his villain Roat. The psycho wanders about the stage taunting the unknowing woman who lives in perpetual darkness by creating audience-gulping near-misses of contact. Roat come to the pinnacle of his desire through his psychotic ways until Knott’s climax brings Roat down with an audience-gloating thud.
Director/Sound Designer James Venturini wrings out each drop of impending fear from the audience as he moves his actors around the stage. His pre-show music design is a bit fast and loud but it juxtaposes nicely with the methodical, sometimes slow action in the show’s beginning.
Venturini is aided by the tight set designed by Jonathan Hart. Hart has taken most of the stage, from the back forward, to build the Hendrix’s apartment, which includes the raised front door up-stage right with a bedroom door below it, center right, the kitchen sprawls left toward the darkroom door on the up left wall. The dining area is in front of the kitchen and the living room takes up half of the down right side of the stage. Karrie Morrison does props and dresses the set.
Diane Runkel greatly aided by Virginia Yanoff does costume design and execution; Aaron Mohs-Hale does lighting and Jeanette Sanchez-Izenman is Stage Manager.
Venturini is confident that he has imbued his actors with the same understanding he has about the script and they aptly respond to his desires. The director has gathered many familiar faces to build his cast with just a couple of newcomers.
Isaac Gutierrez and Travis Martinez (both are Assistant Stage Managers) play Patrolman One and Two, respectively, in the few minutes before final curtain. Though the two are on-stage only a short time, they both fulfill their roles aptly.
Ben Stahl plays Sam Hendrix, the helpful photographer who gets everyone into this death-defying mess. Stahl is a loving husband who is determined that his wife will learn independence with his help. Stahl does quite nicely in the role.
Kerry Bringman is Carlino, the less bright of the duo of henchmen. Bringman is great in the role of the career ex-con. The actor even adds a slight accent to his character, which sets his aside from the others. Bringman gets better with each role he does.
Jed Slaughter as Mike Talman plays a felon with a heart of gold. Slaughter starts his character off as a “whatever I can get out of it” kind of guy which, by act two, has morphed into a “how can I help this poor girl and not get hurt doing so?” guy. Slaughter does equally well with each characterization; by the end of the story, he is almost lovable.
Mari Dowd is Gloria. This emerging thespian is quite good in the role. She shifts from friend to foe at the drop of a whim and taunts and tantrums with equal ease. One is almost sorry for the parent of the charming young lady as she acts the part so well, one has to think she has had a lot of rehearsal – at home! The chances are that Dowd is just a good actor.
John Munn takes on the role of Harry Roat. Munn makes Roat a debonair, diabolically evil entity with each move perfectly measured to advance his goal. By the grace of God and good writing, Roat is thwarted. However, Munn takes the character-build prize as the villain the audience loves to hate; kudos for choices.
Deya Ozburn is Susy Hendrix. Ozburn starts out as a nervous, overzealous novice blind woman who tries so hard to make her husband proud of her self-assuredness that she forces a fake smile at every other phrase. Act Two emerges and so does Ozburn’s character, with all the know-how for self-preservation of Jessica Fletcher in a tight spot. Ozburn makes small-talk, rants, raves, loves, hates, fears and conquers, all in a single scene and makes each emotion truly believable. Good work!
“Wait Until Dark” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, just behind the Pierce Transit Bus Depot through October 8, each Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There are two Thursday, Pay-What-You-Can” performances, September 14 and an Actor’s Benefit performance, September 21; both are at 8 p.m.
“Wait Until Dark” tells the kind of story that everyone secretly dreads and fears could happen to them: being confronted with an evil, unfeeling force over which they have no control and no hope of conquering. Yet, as with Knott’s Susy Hendrix, we see that sometimes – sometimes — there is a chance.
See this thriller and enjoy a gripping armrest night of theatre knowing that the chances that you will ever be in Susy’s situation are so negligible that you’ll breath a sigh of thankfulness and admiration for the work which went into this exciting piece of theatre.