Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wait Until Dark

review published in The News Tribune April 20, 2007

Tacoma Little Theater’s latest offering is an old fashioned thriller called “Wait Until Dark” by Frederick Knott. I suspect that few people remember the 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn and a young Alan Arkin, and that even fewer remember the 1966 stage production or the short-lived revivals in 1998 and 2003. But I’ll bet a lot of area theater patrons have fond memories of other plays and movies of this type: unadulterated thrillers in which tension builds and builds toward an inevitable climax, thrillers that do not rely on outlandish characters or humor or clever plot twists.

Hitchcock, of course, comes immediately to mind, as well some Robert Mitchum vehicles such as “Cape Fear” and “Night of the Hunter.”

A trio of con artists preys on a blind woman, Susy Hendrix (Debbie Gallinatti), in her Greenwich Village apartment. Her husband, Sam (Bob Gossman) is out of town, and the only person she can call on for help is a 13-year-old upstairs neighbor named Gloria (Sarah Carlson). The nefarious con artists are Harry Roat Jr. (Sean Schroeder), Mike Tallman (Dave Dear) and a pretend policeman who goes by the name Sgt. Carlino (Chris Cantrell). They believe Susy’s husband has come into possession of a doll stuffed with heroin, and that it is hidden somewhere in the apartment. Roat, the ring leader, cooks up an elaborate ruse to get Susy to help them find the doll. Tallman insinuates himself into Susy’s good graces by pretending to be an old friend of her husband. And Carlino uses his cop disguise as a means of searching her apartment.

Gloria, the petulant neighbor girl who sometimes helps out in the Hendrix home, is fond of Sam, but makes no bones about not liking Susy. At first, she is more of a hindrance than a help to the blind woman; but as the plot thickens, she becomes intrigued by the mystery and possible danger, and becomes a valuable ally.

Gradually Susy figures out that something is afoot and that she is in mortal danger. The only weapons she has to defend herself with are her wits and her blindness. She has a distinct advantage over the men because she has trained herself to get around without sight and they haven’t. So she turns out the lights. And much of the climactic struggle takes place on a pitch-black stage.

I wish the suspense was a bit more nail-biting and the ending a bit more of a surprise, but I certainly can’t fault the cast or director for that. It’s just that in the years since this play was written we’ve seen too many thrillers with similar plot devices.

Gallinatti is believable as a blind woman. She never lets her eyes focus in the way a sighted person would. Her panic and anger are also quite realistic. In short, she does a great job of acting.

Dear is also convincing as Tallman, the most multi-dimensional character in the play. Tallman is an evil man, a man who may even be capable or murder, but he is also compassionate and likeable. Dear immerses himself into the role so well that it is easy to forget he is acting. I found myself pulling for him even when I knew he was up to no good.

Schroeder, on the other hand, is clearly acting. He doesn’t seem natural. When he is being cool and collected, his voice has no inflection; and when he gets excited, his emotion seems flat. Granted, his is a difficult role as Roat assumes various personas during the course of the action.

Cantrell nails the fidgety and slovenly pretend cop, Carlino, and Carlson does a great job of playing the classically complicated 13-year-old.

The set and lighting by Brett Carr are both terrific. He truly captures the look of a 1960s basement apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and the lighting is crucial – one missed lighting cue would have been disastrous and there were none. Kudos also go to Allan Loucks for composing an original mood-setting score.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday through May 6
WHERE: Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N “I” St., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20.00 for adults, $18.00 for students, seniors and military, and $16.00 for children 12 and under
INFORMATION: 253-272-2281

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