Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: No Need to Wait: WAIT UNTIL DARK

One of the best things about a resident theater company is that regular audience goers develop a familiarity with the actors, their talents, strengths and weaknesses. And (you may have seen this coming) one of the worst things about a resident theater company is that regular audiences goers develop a familiarity with the actors, their talents, strengths and weaknesses.

Depending on the play performed, this familiarity can be an asset, and other times, a liability. It's therefore important to be selective in what plays to schedule since you must be sure that your in-house actors are a "good fit." Sometimes you're on target. Others...not so much.

At first glance, Frederick Knott's WAIT UNTIL DARK (adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher) would seem a good choice as we enter October...Halloween...and time for the eerie and the scary, and if you are familiar with the plot of this murder mystery (or have seen the 1967 movie with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin), you know it's a good seasonal choice.

Unfortunately, WAIT UNTIL DARK, now nearly a half-century old, is almost a period piece, with its use of dial-phones, police who blithely come and go into one's apartment without so much as a reference to a "search warrant," and attitudes toward what reviewer Bosley Crowther called "an infirmity", in this case, protagonist Susan (Megan Anderson)'s blindness.

There's little by way of character development; Time Magazine said "the story is as full of holes as a kitchen colander." For example, the "heavies" in the play concoct an elaborate con designed to find a doll containing something of great value in Susan's apartment. She's alone, she's blind. By play's end, it's clear that the lead villain, Roat (Bruce Randolph Nelson) is more than happy to just kill her once he has what he wants. So why not just break in, demand the doll, and be done with it? Why the elaborate ruse with Venetian blind signaling, false identities, and a web of lies you'd need a legion of spiders with perfect memories to keep straight?

All this being said, the Everyman puts on a competent production that engages the audience and moves at a sprightly pace. Megan Anderson's Susan, one of the few characters to actually "grow" in this play, does an excellent job as she transforms from "dependent blind girl" to an inventive, empowered woman who turns her "infirmity" into a strength, proving by play's end she is more than capable to fend for herself.

In some ways, Gloria (Ui-Seng Francois) is a mirror image of Megan, another female character who is fettered by circumstances beyond her control (for Susan, blindness caused by a car accident; for Gloria, the dysfunctional family she was born into) who grows from an angry teen (almost a tormentor rather than an aide to Susan in the play's first act) to a comrade-in-arms, helping Susan solve the mystery of the doll.

Todd Scofield, in his Everyman debut, portrays Carlino, a former cop now con artist, with appropriate bluster, still slightly stained by morals which fade under direct examination. Eric M. Messner is Mike, who may or may not have served in the Army with Susan's husband, Sam, a former military, now portrait, photographer; Mike is an all-American good guy who clearly has made some bad choices in terms of the company he keeps. Arturo Tolentino has the unenviable role of Sam, a character who spends most of his time off stage, chasing phantom photo assignments. His final appearance, when all the fight and fury are over, seems especially impotent as his "thank God I saved you" moment is lost as Susan has handled the storm all by herself, thank you very much.

Which leads us to Everyman staple, Bruce Randolph Nelson, who has morphed into characters as diverse as Groucho Marx and Edgar Allan Poe to Antonio Salieri. I like to say Nelson is Baltimore's own Tom Hanks, an actor greatly popular and beloved...however, that's dangerous, lest one's persona overshadow his characters. The problem with familiarity isn't that it breeds contempt, it blinds-overexposure, if you will, makes the ability to suspend one's disbelief far more difficult. Is it "Sully" you see on the screen or Tom Hanks with a good makeup job?

Nelson is such a popular actor, especially well suited to the comic and bizarre, it can be challenging to see beyond that. That's not Roat, the psychopathic murderer, that's Bruce Nelson! "Wasn't he hilarious in ANIMAL CRACKERS? I just love him."

Of course, when you're dealing with a resident theater company, one must utilize the actors at hand. Nelson is certainly capable of playing a complex villain, and part of the blame must be placed on a script teeming with 2-dimensional, melodramatic characters. And Nelson delivers-he's an evil criminal mastermind in a black leather coat, the urbane, well-mannered killer...I'm just not sure I'm buying it.

WAIT UNTIL DARK continues its run at the Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street in downtown Baltimore, now through Oct. 9th. Tickets are $10-$64. For more information, call 410-752-2208 or visit www.everymantheatre.org.


Related Articles View More Baltimore Stories   Shows

From This Author Daniel Collins