Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Wait Until Dark"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Frederick Knott
directed by Kent Paul

Susy … Victoria Arbiter
Sam … Nathaniel McIntyre
Carlino … Frankie Juliano
Roat … Dan Domingues
Mike … Joe Macdougall
Gloria … Erica Schoneberger
Patrolman … Owen Doyle
Patrolman … Bryan Milner

It’s been over thirty years since I first (and last) saw a production of Frederick Knott’s WAIT UNTIL DARK, the celebrated thriller about a blind woman terrorized by three men seeking a heroin-filled doll which her husband had innocently brought into their apartment. It was a college/summer stock production with a mature comedienne as its leading lady --- no Audrey Hepburn, who played Susy in the film version; no, not by a long shot --- yet the production worked, and worked well: Frederick Knott’s play is foolproof, being all clockwork save for the character of Mike, who develops a heartbeat late in the cat-and-mouse game. Time has not changed my opinion of the play: its first act is still slow and talky, and the numerous impersonations to dupe the conveniently-blind Susy are ludicrous: any self-respecting drug dealer would have acted otherwise even if it would make for a rather short evening. But the play still tightens when Susy wises up and her showdown with Roat, the mastermind, remains a breath-holding moment in the theatre, especially when the audience is made to see things from Susy’s point of view. (How many audience members realize they are watching an old-fashioned melodrama with Our Heroine fighting off the Villain while the Hero is away?)

Director Kent Paul retains the play’s mid-60s timeframe --- a wise move: drugs are now a part of our national landscape, and today’s Americans, in an airport setting, would refuse a stranger’s request to transport a doll to a little girl in hospital. The Stoneham production is sporadically gripping due to Tony Andrea’s set being too large for a New York basement apartment (it’s amazing how much suspense can drain away when moving from heeeeeeere to therrrrrrre) and to its leading lady. Mr. Paul has cast Victoria Arbiter, a Zimbabwe-born dancer/actress, as Susy, declaring, “She’s as close as one can come to finding a young Audrey Hepburn.” Ms. Arbiter may be built along Ms. Hepburn’s tremulous lines but is as hard and perky as Judy Carne in her LOVE ON A ROOFTOP days; she is our designated hostess for the evening and what’s all this about a doll? (Her Susy is also blessed with a bat’s radar --- she can make a quick exit without having to feel her way.) Happily --- fortunately --- Ms. Arbiter throws decorum to the winds at the eleventh hour.

Last year, Dan Domingues fascinated in New Rep’s production of A GIRL’S WAR where he was as savage and as innocent as a feral dog; I hope his being cast as Roat does not doom him to playing only lowlifes, evermore --- he also has lyrical potential for Shakespearean roles. Here, his Roat is a collection of roars, giggles and accents --- Roat may be a chameleon but he must still have a base upon which to layer his multiple selves; Mr. Domingues dazzles, here and there, but a whole man never emerges. As the evolving Mike and the thick Carlino, Joe Macdougall and Frank Juliano underline, italicize and put quotation marks around their role-playing --- if Susy can hear fingerprints being wiped off her refrigerator door, she would also have picked up on these comic-book inflections, sooner than later; on the other hand, if Mike and Carlino were convincing enough actors, what are they be doing in the drug business?

Still, a rollercoaster is a rollercoaster, and the Stoneham production delivers enough thrills to send an audience home happy. As I said, it’s a foolproof script.

"Wait Until Dark" (26 February-14 March)
395 Main Street, STONEHAM, MA
1 (781) 279-2200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide