A policeman. A con man. An old friend. A blind woman. A lost doll. A murder.
Everyman Theatre (“Everyman”) kicked off its 2016-17 season on Friday with the suspenseful thriller, Wait Until Dark, a play penned by Frederick Knott (of Dial M for Murder fame) and later adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher. The hard work of the actors and the creative team is evident in a score of decisions and details that conspire to beguile the audience as this taut mystery unfolds. The result is a gripping, fast-paced show that has you guessing the outcome until the very last scene.
Wait Until Dark is about the search for a very special doll. The men who want it are willing to kill for it. Unfortunately for a blind woman named Susan, they think the doll is somewhere in her Greenwich Village apartment. Unfortunately for the bad guys, Susan is not a helpless damsel but a clever, resourceful foe. Using her disability as a means of leveling the playing field, Susan does her best to protect herself and her home. The show is as anxiety-inducing as an old film noir, but also has numerous laugh-out-loud funny moments that balance the production, making it pleasurable, if chilling, to watch.
Resident Company Member Megan Anderson gives a strong, nuanced performance as Susan. It’s only been a year-and-a-half since Anderson’s character became blind. Anderson adeptly expresses not only the frustrations and struggles Susan experiences because of her relatively new disability, but also the ways in which it has made her stronger. She pays closer attention to sounds and smells and is able to discern what’s happening around her despite her lost vision. Anderson’s performance manages to be both powerful and subtle in this layered, compelling role – a testament to her skill as an actor.
Another Resident Company Member, Bruce Randolph Nelson, plays the sinister antagonist, Roat. Roat is a sociopathic menace whose singular goal is to find the doll no matter how much murder and mayhem it takes. Nelson, who is by all accounts a charming and kind man in real life, is downright chilling as the disquietingly creepy Roat. It’s like he stepped out of the pages of 1940s pulp classic right on to Everyman’s stage. I’ve seen him in numerous productions now and I’m always impressed at how completely, from his voice to his posture, Nelson transforms into his roles.
Eric M. Messner, returning to Everyman for his first role since 2012’s Time Stands Still, was terrific as Mike in Wait Until Dark. A friendly face when Susan most needed it, Mike was by her side as she puzzled through the drama that was unfolding around her. Messner’s portrayal of the amiable Marine Lieutenant was well-crafted and felt very sincere. This was in sharp relief to the con man Carlino. Played by Todd Scofield, who from the start of the show until the end gave off an unsettling, felonious vibe, Carlino bumbled and bullied his way into Susan’s home in search of the doll.
Though they didn’t spend as much time on stage as the others, actors Arturo Tolentino – as Sam and Ui-Seng Francois – as Julia, performed well as Susan’s husband and neighbor girl, respectively. [Note: The role of Gloria is being shared by two young women from Baltimore School for the Arts. The other actor cast as Gloria is Shannon Hutchinson, who did not perform the night I attended.)
The creative team for Wait Until Dark did an exceptional job of creating a physical environment for this show. The set, designed by Everyman Resident Set Designer Daniel Ettinger, was not just a meticulously-detailed representation of a 1940s basement apartment in Greenwich Village, it was practically another character in the play. And the lighting and sound design by Everyman Resident Lighting Designer Jay Herzog and Sound Designer Patrick Calhoun fed the tense atmosphere and helped move the plot forward.
Notable were the venetian-blinded windows that looked out onto street-level New York. The apartment was often very dim – Susan having no need for the lights – so the windows provided light to the set and also cast the shadows of passersby, including other characters in the show. Likewise, the sound design that allowed viewers to hear street noise, the external apartment building doors, and the stairs leading up from and down to Susan’s apartment helped make even activities that occurred offstage feel like they were happening on set.
Subtle things like certain tasks being louder when experienced by Susan (rotary dial phone, clock ticking) made for a rich environment. The team also succeeded in plunging the entire theater into complete darkness when a couple scenes called for it. I don’t know how they managed to place glow-in-the-dark safety tape for the actors in such a way that it was invisible to the audience!
Fight Choreographer Lewis Shaw had his work cut out for him on this production. Not only was he tasked with designing and training the actors in fight choreography that pitted a blind person against a sighted one, he had to do it again with the additional hazard of total darkness. He did a great job. The fight scenes looked realistic and believable and the actors escaped the show without actual personal injury.
Wait Until Dark at Everyman Theatre is an extremely well-executed production that increased my appreciation for the stage magic that’s possible when an extraordinarily talented creative team and a group of excellent actors work together toward a goal. The acting was top-notch across the board and the technical aspects were outstanding. If you’re in the market for a great night of theater, I strongly recommend this funny, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one intermission.