Great Lakes Theater’s production of ‘Wait Until Dark’ fizzles rather than sizzles
There is an inherent risk in staging psychological murder mysteries that first saw stage light in 1966 with the first problem being the modern audience. In this day of Justin Haythe’s A Cure for Wellness and any movie from M. Night Shyamalan the fear factor has been raised to a much higher degree that anything earlier is woefully outdated. Thus revival productions such as Great Lakes Theater’s Wait Until Dark directed by Joseph Hanreddy and now playing at the Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square seem pedestrian by comparison and even a bit square.
It is not from lack of trying. The stage set by Scot Bradley is a multi-tiered creation full of little hidden nooks and crannies. Rick Martin does his best with the lighting design although much of the thriller action in the second act takes place in the dark. The costumes by Rachel Laritz work well for the various characters and the actors themselves try their best with a weak, dated and convoluted script.
The tale begins with two con men entering and discovering each other in a strange apartment. During their small talk, the first man to enter acts like the apartment is his but the other man soon sees through the lie. Both men (who know each other from prison) have been summoned by a third party who soon arrives. Harry Roat is a heroin smuggler with a female accomplice, Lisa, who recently convinced photographer Sam Hendrix (who shares the apartment with his recently blinded wife Susy) to bring a child’s doll back from Canada. The doll is filled with drugs and Roat has set it up for the apartment to be vacant in order for the three men to meet.
Prior to the other men arriving, Harry and Lisa’s efforts at searching the apartment fail to locate the doll. In a rage, Roat kills Lisa and hides her body in a locked back room. During a confrontation the two men force Roat to turn over the key to a back room where they discover Lisa’s body. Roat convinces the men to dispose of the body and take on the disguises of Mike and Sgt. Carlino in an effort to discover from Susy the whereabouts of the doll (which was in fact taken by Gloria, a young girl in an upper floor apartment who assists Susy and who thought the doll was a gift for her from Sam). Mike shows up pretending to be an old Marine buddy of Sam and quickly befriends Susy. Sgt. Carlino arrives to “investigate” the murder of Lisa whose body was discovered in a nearby empty warehouse.
Harry Roat who at first plays a detective returns to play his own father who bursts in to inform Susy that Sam is having an affair with his son’s wife and the doll is proof of that affair. Susy begins to become suspicious when upon hearing Harry Roat in both his personages realizes it is the same man. Through Gloria’s help Susy finds that the three men are camped in a Volkswagen bus within sight of the apartment and are using a pay phone to call her (the number at the pay phone is the same one “Sgt. Carlino” gave Susy as the precinct number).
With this knowledge, Susy sends Gloria to find her husband and sets about darkening the apartment and setting it up with various weapons to defend her thus creating conditions that favor her loss of sight as the show ends with a dramatic finish.
The main problem is the staggering amount of improbable circumstances that the audience is asked to believe. From Sam being convinced to carry a heroin filled toy on a flight, the ease at which everyone enters and exits the apartment, how Sam is repeatedly lured away, Susy believing the word of a total stranger that her husband is unfaithful and Gloria taking the doll then returning it all makes for a bit of a stretch of the collective imagination. In the first act the action plods along and never convincingly engages the audience even when a body is discovered (more like a “here’s the body…its Lisa…get rid of it…OK). Things were certainly different (and more trusting) in the 60s.
As for the cast, they make the best out of a weak situation. Jodi Dominic* plays a convincingly strong willed visually impaired woman who is frustrated by the challenge. Her whimpering when threatened by Harry Roat seems a bit out of character. Arthur Hanket* as Harry Roat, Jr. and Sr. does a good job at menacing but in the second act becomes nearly cartoonish. Nick Steen* as Mike Talman and David Anthony Smith* as Sgt. Carlino play the baddies well but way too nice. Jonathan Dyrud* as Sam Hendrix pretty much phones in his brief appearance and while adding some background to the plot is more a non-entity to the play. Then there is Gloria, the little imp that everyone loves to hate who is the central cause of all this mayhem. Elise Pakeila does a fine turn as this precocious little monster that many hoped would join the list of victims (alas, not to be). With regards to the before mentioned shortcomings, it is more the fault of the script rather than their efforts.
*Member of Actors Equity Association
Due to the adult theme of this show it is recommended to leave the children at home as well as anyone sensitive to this type of genre.
Think of this dated play as a glass of fine champagne that has been left out too long. It tastes the same but has lost all of its fizz. In spite of the best efforts of everyone involved they simply cannot return the original effervescent of when it was fresh and new.
The Great Lakes Theater production of <I>Wait Until Dark</I> will be performed at the Hanna Theater at Playhouse Square through March 12, 2017. Curtain times for all evening performances are 7:30 p.m. with 3:30 p.m. curtain times for Saturday matinees and 3 p.m. curtain times for Sunday matinees. Prices for tickets range from $15 to $85 with student tickets at $13 and may be purchased by calling (216) 241-6000 or online at www.playhousesquare.com or by stopping by the Playhouse Square Ticket Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.