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BWW Review: Theatre Memphis Plays 'Cats and Mouse' With WAIT UNTIL DARK

The set alone is testament as to why Theatre Memphis invariably is recognized during awards season for its designers -- two dominant windows admitting shifts in light as darkness falls, steps descending into a blind woman's apartment (steps on which menacing characters will align themselves as they focus on their sightless victim), a refrigerator that will become a hiding place, a source of danger, and a shield of protection. Frederick Knott's chiller (adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and suspensefully helmed by Director Tracey Zerwig Ford) is a tense and understated October alternative to the bucket of blood drenching poor CARRIE just across town at Circuit Playhouse.

There are a number of suspense thrillers taking their cue from an impaired and seemingly outmatched heroine -- I'm thinking of Robert Siodmak's Selznick-produced classic THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, in which a mute Dorothy McGuire has to use "smarts" as she plays "hide and seek" with a deranged serial killer; or Mia Farrow's similarly blind would-be victim in the post-ROSEMARY'S BABY film SEE NO EVIL. Certainly, most of the audience at Sunday's matinee of WAIT UNTIL DARK retain images of the delicate, resourceful Audrey Hepburn surrounded by Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, and (best of all) Alan Arkin. That film provides a challenging template for the Theatre Memphis production, and Ms. Ford and her skillful cast adhere to it faithfully ("If it ain't broke, don't fix it").

Once a necessary (but entertaining) encounter between "Sergeant Carlino" (S.A. Weakley) and "Harry Roat, Jr." (Todd Nelson) takes place, and once Andria Wilson's sightless "Suzy" bids adieu to photographer-husband "Sam" (Steve Mulroy), the play quickly builds in intensity as a storm rages outside and darkness threatens to fall. What Suzy lacks in sight, though, is more than offset by her savvy and intuition; and the fun here is watching her as she "connects the dots" and realizes the dangers gathering as those about her search for a missing object.

It's always fun to watch the talents at Theatre Memphis take on something like an Agatha Christie mystery and "dust off the cobwebs." More often than not, the "dated" nature of the material is "swept under the rug." While musicals seem to be the main attraction on the Theatre Memphis stage (and no one expects WAIT UNTIL DARK to draw in audiences on the scale of a THE PRODUCERS or THE ADDAMS FAMILY), plays like this are a comfort on a chilly October night. (I never tire of PERRY MASON repeats, the visual version of munching on popcorn.) Furthermore, there is the joy of watching a first-rate group of actors "take a deep breath" and prepare to challenge the memory of a perfectly cast film.

As the trio of intruders, all three actors are expert -- a burly S.A. Weakley is a sight to behold in his coat, hat, and gloves; Willie Derrick is touching as the one villain who possesses inner decency; and Todd Nelson utilizes a number of disguises and voices as the smartest and deadliest of antagonists. As entertaining as these gentlemen are, the piece wouldn't work without the convincing work of Andria Wilson's "Suzy"; playing "blind" is not easy. Moreover, she shades her character with "an edge"; Suzy is not afraid to sling out a word like "bitch" to describe the troubled teen "Gloria" (a nice performance by Kaitlyn Poindexter), Yet, she has compassion, too, as demonstrated in her changing attitude toward Gloria and in her sad realization that Derrick's "Mike" is not who he seems.

Daniel A. Kopera's excellent set is even more effective as a result of the lighting and sound design of Jeremy Allen Fisher. (As the light varies through those windows, there are also elongated shadows of the felons looming ominously over the heroine.) The atmospheric music is also welcome (though, at times, it is somewhat too emphatic). This excellent little thriller's last performance will be November 1 -- and isn't that appropriate? A chilly -- and chilling -- October, indeed.

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From This Author - Joseph Baker

I received my Master of Arts Degree in English from Memphis State University and worked as an English instructor at Christian Brothers High School from (read more...)