BWW Reviews: Re-Adapted WAIT UNTIL DARK Offers Chilling Performances at Geffen
Frederick Knott's psychological thriller Wait Until Dark first premiered on Broadway in 1966 with Lee Remick in the title role and was later turned into a film with Audrey Hepburn. The latest adaptation of the play at the Geffen is by Jeffrey Hatcher, who has moved the action from the 60s to the 40s. The concept has piqued a lot of interest, but upon seeing the finished product, the whole business seems curious.
There are slight changes in language; the Mike character (Mather Zickel) becomes a soldier home from WWII instead of Viet Nam; apartment decor and clothes reflect the earlier period; a radio is utilized as the major form of communication; diamonds instead of drugs are the object of the criminals' hunt. But as I noticed all these transformations, I questioned why? Does placing Knott's play in the 40s take it in a new or different direction? Does it enhance the message? The suspense remains the same; the piece is still gripping from start to finish, as it's still the non-seeing central character and her ultra-sensory world that engage and her solitary dilemma from moment to moment that keeps us on The Edge of our seats. So the point of the transformation? It must be to prove that the play is timeless. Under Matt Shakman's taut direction, Wait Until Dark remains a chilling experience in any time or space.
Alison Pill plays Susan Hendrix. Playing blind is a challenge for any actor who must focus on convincing an audience that he (she) possesses that disability. Positioning the eyes correctly, moving around as naturally as possible without stumbling and shifting all the other senses into overdrive produce a demanding workout. But what is more important, especially in a play like Wait Until Dark where fear must be palpable, is concentrating on producing the genuine fright of the moment. Every human being, blind or sighted, experiences terror when he (she) knows that someone is threatening to kill him (her), but for a blind person. that fear factor quadruples. Pill does super work keeping everything in balance, maintaining a frazzled hold on reality. Also terrific is Brighid Fleming as Gloria, the precocious but likable brat upstairs, who will do anything for attention. Fine support emanates as well from Zickel as Mike, the seemingly good guy in whom Susan places too much trust, from Rod McLachlan as Sgt. Carlino, and from Matt McTighe in his brief scenes as Susan's caring husband Sam. Adam Stein as Harry Roat is menacing to a fault without going over The Edge. The one element that I found missing in this new adaptation is a sense of humor. Carlino in particular usually provides some comic relief, but in this production he's severely unfunny.
Craig Siebels has excellently designed an old New York basement apartment with glimpses of menacing movement outside the window and a persistent rain, creating a darkly forboding atmosphere. Shakman keeps the play moving at top speed... and when the lights go out, the glaring light from the open refrigerator door coats Roat and Susan in an eerily scary, terrifying glow.
This is a riveting evening of theatre made especially bright, not by the unnecessary changes in concept by Hatcher, but rather by Knott's tightly woven script, Shakman's sharp direction and the superior craftsmanship of the performers, particularly the fascinating Alison Pill.
For more information, visit geffenplayhouse.com.