Wait Until Dark
Written by Frederick Knott
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Michael Gotch
Where: Thompson Theater at the Roselle Center for the Arts
(University of Delaware, Newark, DE)
When: Wednesday, February 3, 7:30pm
Photo by Paul Cerro
As director Michael Gotch states in his very short note in the program for the University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Player's production of Wait Until Dark, "Everyone says the stage thriller is extinct." Quite frankly, as I headed into this show this evening, I was trying to ponder if I've ever seen a thriller on stage before and I believe the answer is no. Why is that...especially considering that the film director I admire most is Alfred Hitchcock? The answer is right there in Gotch's statement -- "Everyone says the stage thriller is extinct." For those fortunate enough to snag tickets to one of the last four productions of Wait Until Dark, however, they'll realize that the stage thriller genre is alive and kicking at the REP in what is their most enjoyable production since the fantastic Wit back in 2014.
Obviously, when it comes to thrillers, the less known about the plot the better, but the general overall gist concerns a recently blinded woman named Susan (played by REP member Deena Burke) who is preyed upon by the unkempt, sleazy Carlino (REP's Stephen Pelinski) and the menacing Roat (REP's Lee E. Ernst) because they believe she may know where a doll containing some valuables is located within her basement flat in Greenwich Village. Even if you've seen the Audrey Hepburn-starring film, you're in for a treat (particularly if you haven't seen it in a long while like me and have forgotten some of the more twisty elements that pop up throughout) as the play moves along at a solid clip while Susan tries to figure out what exactly is going on around her.
A play like this wouldn't work without some exquisite attention to detail in a few areas. For starters, lighting and sound needs to be top notch and Eileen Smitheimer and Barry Funderburg respectively have crafted an incredibly believable environment in which the tale unfolds. Never have a few matches or the sounds of slamming doors, keys in locks, or whirring refrigerators been more enervating. Of course, director (and fellow REP actor) Michael Gotch must also take huge credit for this play's success as well (especially considering this is a genre that we typically don't see performed). I'm not sure I've ever heard an audience so goshdarn quiet as when Stephen Pelinski skulks around onstage in the play's opening moment. As we waited on the edge of our seats to find out what was going on -- in the play's opening moment, I repeat -- I knew that Gotch had an incredibly solid grasp as to how to make the evening be an entertaining one. His use of sets, props, lighting, sound, and silence (yes, silence -- I've never been so embarrassed to have my stomach growl or hear the stomach growl of the two people sitting on either side of me) showcase his masterful control of the genre.
Gotch gets some great performances from his cast as well with Deena Burke giving her best performance I've seen yet. She more than carries the show as the newly blinded Susan, perfectly conveying the character's desire for independence, yet her slight guilt and disappointment at needing to rely on others at times. Stephen Pelinski is always one of the REP's most reliable actors and his take on the slimy Carlino is spot on. Mic Matarrese (of the REP) as Susan's husband's WWII friend and guest actor (and UD student) Pratigya Paudel as a bratty teenage next door neighbor lighten up several scenes and help to shine a better light on Susan's difficult lifestyle. I must admit that I was a bit nervous when the play began and Lee Ernst seemed to be falling into his mannered vocalizations (albeit it with a gangstery-type swagger), but his character grew to be much more developed and enjoyable as the play progressed.
Needless to say, Wait Until Dark is a wonderful theatrical experience. Even when they choose disappointing plays, the REP always is known for their quality of production. Here, the REP chooses what some may consider a "lesser play" (if only because it doesn't hold the same gravitas as something from Shakespeare or Shaw or Tennessee Williams) and gives us something most audiences of live theater haven't seen before -- an edge of your seat roller coaster ride. Seriously, snatch up the remaining tickets, folks.