Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wait Until Dark

The problem with Frederick Knott’s 1966 suspense thriller, “Wait Until Dark” is...well...Frederick Knott’s 1966 suspense thriller, “Wait Until Dark.” I’ll just come right out and say it: it’s a dumb plot that tries to be suspenseful and has a brief truly somewhat scary moment, but mostly leaves you scratching your head and wondering--why??

The cast of the Woodland Opera House production, under the direction of Dean Shellenberger, tries to make it all work but the slow pace and occasional muffled diction make it a struggle.

The action is set in a basement apartment in Greenwich Village. That’s New York, you know. The big, bad city. Why then, do the residents of said apartment go out for the day, leaving the front door unlocked. All you have to do is look at any movie or TV show to know that if you live in New York, you have all sorts of locks on your doors.

But the play starts with Mike Talman (David Campfield) opening the door to this deserted apartment and stepping inside. It seems that Mike has received a mysterious call from a total stranger asking him to meet in this apartment, which, he is promised, will be unlocked, and he will earn big bucks.

As Mike creeps around the darkened apartment, the door opens again and the large, imposing shape of Sgt. Carlino (Shawn O’Neal) is silhouetted in the door, and then he, too, begins creeping around.

It turns out that the two guys (both of whom are ex-cons, of course--the names have been made up for them) have been called by Harry Roat, Jr. (Scott Devine) (the “Jr.” is important because later on he also becomes Harry Roat, Sr.), who knows neither of them OR the residents of the apartment (so we’re still not clear on why the occupants leave the door unlocked) to do a job.

It seems that there’s this drug dealer who is smuggling drugs in from Canada. They are sewn inside the back of a doll and to avoid detection, she ends up handing the doll to a total stranger and says that it’s a gift for someone in the hospital. The drug dealer gets killed and Roat (Jr. or Sr.) is going to pay thousands of dollars to the two ex-cons if they can somehow find the doll, which must be hidden somewhere in the apartment.

(Parenthetically I must add that I have no expertise in drug trafficking, but heroin must be very expensive if such a small doll can be worth such a big fortune.)

The occupants of the apartment are Sam (Dan Featherston) and Susy (Kristine David) Hendrix. Sam is a photographer and Susy was in an auto accident recently and was blinded, so she’s still trying to learn how to get along on her own, though she has assistance from a neighbor girl, Gloria (Sarah Yablon).

On the day in question, Sam has gone to his photo studio on a made-up job, which the bad guys have concocted to get him out of the apartment and Susy, for some unexplainable reason, has gone to a movie (which turns out to be in Swedish, so she could neither see nor understand it).

Rather than use strong-arm tactics on Susy to get the doll back, which would seem the logical way to go, the three devise a complicated scenario which involves role playing and signals sent by way of Venetian blinds and fake murders. It is all intended, of course, to build a sense of dread and suspense, but you’re too busy trying to figure out what the heck is going on to be very frightened.

There are also just downright stupid plot elements, like pouring gasoline all over the apartment and then using matches to illuminate the dark.

The whole thing is a muddle, though it is a tour de force for WOH newcomer, Kristine David, who does a wonderful job as the blind Susy.

Matt Dahlberg rounds out the small cast in a very brief appearance as a policeman.

Doug Keowen has designed the good looking set and Jeff Kean’s lighting design is crucial to creating atmosphere throughout the play and these may be the best parts of the whole production.

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