published in The News Tribune, Nov. 21, 2008
After the final ovation at Olympia Little Theatre’s opening night performance of “Wait Until Dark” I overheard an audience member say, “I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight.”
That must be exactly the reaction the writer, Frederick Knott, and director, Patrick McCabe, hoped for. I was not that fearful or that spellbound, but it was because I’ve seen it before, and it’s hard to be scared by a thriller once you know what is going to happen.
It is a scary show. Set in Sam and Susy Hendrix’s basement apartment in Greenwich Village in 1965, it’s the story of a quick-witted blind woman, Susy (Amy Hill) who is threatened by some very strange visitors, none of whom are quite who they seem to be. Susy’s husband, Sam (Kelly S. McCabe) has brought home a doll that turns out to have been stuffed with drugs by someone, and now it is supposedly hidden somewhere in their apartment, and the bad guys are after it. One of them, going by the name Mike Talman (Samuel S. Johnston) pretends to be an old army buddy of Sam’s. Another (Christopher Connors) pretends to be police Sgt. Carlino. And yet a third (Ward Glass) passes himself off as a very bizarre intruder who goes by the name Harry Roat, Jr. And oh yes, this character also pretends to be Harry Roat’s father, Harry Roat, Sr.
If I explain the story it will ruin it for any reader who has not already seen either the play or the popular movie version starring Audrey Hepburn. Suffice it to say that things get stranger and stranger as the story progresses, and Susy, with the masterful deductive reasoning of a detective, deduces clue after clue until she understands that she is in danger and that the only tool she has is her blindness -- and something she’s not sure if she can count on: the help of her bratty 11-year-old upstairs neighbor, Gloria (Julia VanDerslice).
Hill is excellent as Susy. Never once during the course of the play do her eyes focus as a sighted person’s eyes focus, and her bumbling attempts to find her way around her own apartment are absolutely realistic. (Susy was blinded in an accident and it hasn’t very long, so she is still learning how to navigate.) With nuanced facial expressions, Hill lets the audience see her mind at work as she figures out what is going on. Similarly, her face expresses her growing fear. Her acting is intense, but never overdone. A bonus to having cast Hill as Susy is that she is a very petite woman, which adds greatly to her vulnerability.
No one else in the cast comes up to Hill’s level of excellence, although Connors as the fake cop comes close. Glass and Johnston as the other two criminals are suitably slithery. Both of them skirt dangerously close to coming across as stereotypical bad guys.
I also really liked VanDerslice as the young girl, Gloria. Even though she looks a little too old for the part, she really nailed the mannerisms of a youth, and it was easy to forget that the actress was really not that young.
For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on Kelly McCabe did not ring true as Susy’s husband, Sam. But his role is so inconsequential that it doesn’t much matter, and what he does wonderfully is the lighting design for this show which is crucial, and very effective. Working with McCabe as co-lighting designer is his mother, Beth McCabe, who is also director Patrick McCabe’s wife -- making this a real McCabe family production.
The set by Paul Malmberg and Patrick McCabe is a very convincing basement apartment, especially considering that Olympia Little Theatre has stadium seating on three sides, meaning it is almost in the round and yet must have walls and doors and windows that look realistic -- plus light fixtures and appliances that are more than props – they are crucial to the plot.
The details of plot and set are engaging. The fright factor is not as intense as I think it should be, but Hill’s acting makes it worth seeing.
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 30
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Co. on Harrison Ave (360-943-7500) or on-line at
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281, http://olympialittletheater.org/