In all the hundreds of plays I’ve seen in my life, I have NEVER seen a theater so dark as in the climactic scenes of Provo Theatre Company’s “Wait Until Dark.”
We’re talking absolute pitch blackness here. No lights from backstage, the lobby, or outside. No light from anywhere.
But this is just the capper on a show that is taut, suspenseful and thrilling, a masterpiece of atmospheric terror. Even if you’ve seen the movie, the play still packs a wallop.
New Yorker Sam Hendrix (Scott Bronson) has returned from a business trip with a doll given to him by a stranger in the hopes he will deliver it to a sick girl in the hospital. He misplaces the doll, though, which is unfortunate, since it actually contains quite a lot of heroin, which a trio of bad guys are eager to have back.
They plan an elaborate scheme to get the doll, which they assume must be somewhere in Sam’s apartment. The fact that Sam’s wife, Susy (Tayva Patch), is blind only helps matters: They wait until Sam is gone, then come in and deceive the blind woman.
Mike Talman (Christopher Kendrick) poses as one of Sam’s old Army buddies, gaining Susy’s trust and working to let his cohorts (Ryan Williams, Jeremy Hoop) in so they can find the doll. Susy is led to believe the doll may be incriminating evidence against Sam in a murder case, so she’s eager to find it, too — and far too willing to trust Mike.
The opening scene, in which the evil trio makes their plans, is ominous and intense. Things lighten up briefly after that, as Susy and Sam interact. We learn that Susy has only been blind for a year or so, which means she’s not one of those supernaturally powerful blind people you tend to see in fiction, the ones who move around as gracefully and effortlessly as ballet dancers. Susy has learned a few tricks — how to tell a person by his walk, for example — but she also stumbles around a lot and runs into things.
This is played out perfectly by Patch, who plays Susy as very strong, but also very vulnerable. Kendrick, a natural on stage, makes Mike seem sympathetic, even nice; one senses he really doesn’t want to hurt Susy. Hoop and Williams are the truly evil ones, particularly Hoop, whose character is the mastermind behind it all, stopping at nothing to get what he’s after.
There is one minor flaw in the show: the setting. The 1966 script is kept intact, with the phone number for the police being “0” (or 440-1234, directly), instead of 911, among other small 1960s-isms … yet everyone dresses in modern clothing, and Susy’s cordless phone is certainly a product of the ’90s. That’s a small point, but I can’t think of anything else negative to say, and I have a reputation to uphold here.
Director David Morgan keeps the pace swift, building the tension up to almost unbearable levels. Those last few minutes are a classic study in fear — after all, what’s more scary than darkness?
For good, old-fashioned thrills and heart-stopping terror, you won’t do better than “Wait Until Dark.” Provo Theatre Company has topped itself again.
I should have mentioned Mark Ohran in the review, as he's the one responsible for the lighting design, which in this play is absoultely pivotal. Just how much light there is, and how much it shows us, is crucial, and he did an outstanding job with it.
The paragraph about the 1960s/1990s dichotomy was not printed in the newspaper, mainly because I didn't think of it until it was too late. I'm including it here because it is a valid point, and because I DO have a reputation to maintain, as I mentioned.
Christopher Clark, a good friend of mine, was called upon to play Sergeant Carlino after Ryan Williams was fired for behaving unprofessionally. (Story has it he would show up five minutes before curtain, talk too much backstage during the quiet parts, change his lines and blocking, and he apparently killed an usher, though that may be apocryphal.)