I know people who’ve vowed never to see the 1967 movie again. Even though they know what’s coming: just when you think it’s safe at 27B Grogan Street, Greenwich Village, Alan Arkin’s full profile dives across the screen and threatens beloved/blind Audrey Hepburn yet again.
Many who saw the original Broadway production the year before – starring Lee Remick – made a similar vow. Not only for the suspense but for being in a room as blacked out as a Pharaoh’s tomb.
New Village Arts gets most of the technical demands. Tim Wallace’s set, the semi-spare, basement apartment, has at least eight or nine candidates where a child’s doll – allegedly holding $50,000 worth of heroin – could hide: under the stairs, in a small safe, the washing machine?
Along with eerie half-tones and venetian blind effects, Chris Renda’s lighting achieves total blackout. Justin Lang’s sounds are a mixed bag, though. The steady rain works well. But the thunder (which makes predictable explosions, almost like a parody of the genre) and accompanying music are melodramatically loud. Taking the music down by half might be more effective.
For those who haven’t seen the play or movie, Wait Until Dark is about Susy Hendrix. She lost her sight in an accident. When her husband Sam brings a toy doll home, three hoods scheme to find it. They concoct an elaborate scenario, literally a play within the play, with four characters: a good-cop, a bad-cop (both on parole), and two male members of a dysfunctional family.
Susy turns the tide by making her blindness a strength. All lights go out. Susy battles Roat (Daren Scottt, a calm, then screechy menace) on what you hope is a level playing field.
Among other things the blackout allows for audience participation: how would you fare in similar circumstances?
The climactic scene is well staged. But what comes before makes for a long wait until dark.
The script is talky. The lengthy first act builds, then kills, suspense (even the playwright becomes self-conscious about his gobs of exposition; at one point he stops, calls attention to it, and starts over, thus doubling the gab). Even with talented actors Eddie Yaroch (as good cop Mike) and Max Macke (as bad cop Carlino) as the parolees, blazing their lines in character, Act one drags.
As if aware of the problem, director Kristianne Kurner has Kristin Woodburn pick up the pace as Susy. Though blind, and obviously knowing her way around the apartment, Woodburn moves faster than anyone else on stage. She runs up the stairs, and even through an open doorway.
The choice may move things along, but it undercuts Susy’s vulnerability and throws the needed realism out of whack.
The show’s look and Scott’s increasingly monstrous Roat are highlights. But the real star isn’t trying to be one. She’s 10-year-old Abby De Spain, who clearly was born with the instincts of an actor. De Spain plays Gloria – the recipient and giver of the playwright’s penchant for sadism – as if she walked off the street. And will head back once the story’s over.