Perth Classic Theatre’s Wait Until Dark Cranks Up The Suspense

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Categories: Professional Theatre

 

Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle

Photo: Jean-Denis Labelle

It’s the final half hour of Wait Until Dark that makes Frederick Knott’s 1966 thriller worth reviving. That’s when the play’s blind heroine, Susy Hendrix, must use her wits and ingenuity to thwart the trio of criminals who threaten her life.

Perth’s Classic Theatre Festival delivers in spades in the production that opened over the weekend. Laurel Smith’s direction is taut and decisive in screwing up the suspense and in orchestrating the final confrontation between Alison Smyth, who plays Susy, and Greg Campbell, who plays the most frightening of the three crooks. And she receives vital assistance from Wesley McKenzie’s lighting and Matthew Behrens’s sound design.

The play’s reputation rests on the genuine tension of those closing scenes in the darkness and of the central situation of a young blind woman in jeopardy. But this does not diminish the fact that, despite its enduring popularity, Wait Until Dark is probably Knott’s weakest play. Its premise is preposterous and contrived: a child’s doll containing heroin has managed to find its way into the Greenwich Village apartment of Sam Hendrix and his sightless wife, Susy, and the bad guys are ready to commit murder to get it back.

Before the real excitement happens, we’re subjected to clumsy exposition and moments that make no sense whatsoever. Why, for example, resort to visual disguise to deceive a young woman who is blind?

On the plus side, Wait Until Dark does offer a capable cast the opportunity to develop believable characters. Hence, Greg Campbell brings a quality of quiet menace to the most dangerous of the three criminals, and Alastair Love finds some nuance in the character of the crook most sensitive to our beleaguered heroine’s plight. But Richard Gelinas, a good actor, seems to be at sea over what to do with the third member of this lawless triumvirate and ends up with a jumpy James Cagney caricature.

But overall, the quality of the performances is solid. As Gloria, the nosy kid from upstairs, Madison Miernik manages to give us both the insufferable brat of the early scenes and the dependable young neighbour we end up applauding. And Scott Clarkson has a sympathetic cameo as Susy’s husband.

As for Alison Smyth’s portrayal of the blind Susy, it’s excellent — and we’re not just talking about believable body language here. As a character study, it seems entirely credible. This Susy may be prone to frustration and even anger — in one key confrontation with Gloria, she displays a short fuse — but there’s no despair or self-pity. Instead she’s driven by a formidable determination and resilience — and when the crunch comes, she has the intelligence and will to defend herself in every way possible.

A final word for the contribution of set designer Jennifer Goodman — her conception basement Greenwich Village apartment in the Sixties conveys a convincing sense of time and place — and for Renate Seiler’s costumes, which also evoke a strong sense of period.

 

The Classic Theatre Festival production of Wait Until Dark continues in Perth to August 30.

 

Wait Until Dark

By Frederick Knott

Classic Theatre Festival

Director: Laurel Smith

Set: Jennifer Goodman

Lighting: Wesley McKenzie

Sound: Matthew Behrens

Costumes: Renate Seiler

 

Cast:

Mike Talman/Policeman.……………………Alastair Love

Sgt. Carlino…………………………………..Richard Gélinas

Harry Roat, Jr………………………………..Greg Campbell

Susy Hendrix…………………………………Alison Smyth

Sam Hendrix………………………………….Scott Clarkson

Gloria…………………………………………Madison Miernik

Gloria (u/s)……………………………………Samantha Salter

Policeman…………………………………….Sean Jacklin


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