Theatre Review: 'Wait Until Dark' at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – MD Theatre Guide

Frederick Knott wrote the psychological thriller “Wait Until Dark” in the early 1960s and the film version (1967) starring Audrey Hepburn is ranked by both AFI and Bravo as one of the scariest movies ever produced. In the LTA’s production, it doesn’t really garner many chills until the explosive last 15 minutes or so, and then you can really feel the tension mounting.
Go see ‘Wait Until Dark’ to say hello to an old friend and stay to enjoy the depth of acting and fireworks.
Before that, it’s a cat-and-mouse game. Sam Hendrix has come home to Greenwich Village, New York, from a business trip with a doll that Lisa, a fellow passenger, asked him to keep until she can pick it up and deliver to a relative in the hospital. How anyone could buy that story beggars belief. But it brings two con men into Susy’s world—Mike Talman (Brendan Quinn) and the ersatz Sgt. Carlino (Brendan Chaney), both recently released from prison. They believe that the Hendrix apartment is Lisa’s home and they start to ransack it for the doll. They are interrupted by Mr. Roat (Adam R. Adkins) who blackmails them into conning Susy to get the doll. Roat knows who the apartment belongs to and realizes that Susy and Sam have no clue about the drugs contained in the doll.
Susy (Mel Gumina) was blinded in an accident a year ago and six months later married Sam (Ryan Washington), a photographer. She is confident within the confines of the apartment (it’s all mapped out in her mind), except when the lonely little girl, Gloria (Julia Stimson for this performance; Juliet Strom is the other Gloria) who lives upstairs, moves things around in Susy’s apartment in fits of misplaced pique. Ironically, she also helps her with errands. As Susy, Gumina does really believable work as a blind woman. At one point when she starts to fall over a kitchen chair Gloria has left in the middle of the room, you see the audience instinctively lean forward to catch her. Gumina also provides a very satisfying emotional arc for her character—from her initial terror that Sam could be falsely accused of killing Lisa, her realization that she’s being played, to her strength in the alliance with Gloria to help outwit these men and survive. You watch her learn to trust herself and use all her power.
Stimson’s Gloria is an angry and hurt little girl. She doesn’t play on our sympathies, but shows a remarkably mature emotional range as a child growing up too fast and coming to terms with her reality.
Of the three men, Adkins makes the most impact. He seems to be channeling his Alan Arkin (who played the role in the movie). He is witty, urbane, intelligent, and chillingly cold. He never deviates from his goal. Quinn and Chaney work very well together as two small-time con men way in over their heads. You almost feel sorry for them going up against Roat and then Susy.
Ryan Washington as Sam has the same problem as in the movie version—there’s just not enough time to really develop his character. He’s all business and practices a kind of tough love to get Susy up-to-speed on navigating New York without taking taxis or relying on anyone—except for Gloria. Rounding out the cast are Bill Gerry and Michael Townsend as the real policemen who stop by the apartment to question Susy and the rest of the neighborhood.
Director Heather Benjamin has done a nice job of recreating a 1960s sense of place and keeps the action moving tautly. Set designer Julie Fischer’s set design is inspired. She has done a truly marvelous job with the inside of Susy and Sam’s apartment where all the action takes place. I would love to know where she found those purple/yellow vinyl and metal kitchen chairs and table. Set construction is also by Fischer and the set painting by Mona Wargo (assisted by Dorothy Cass, Hanna Finn, Janet Kennelly, Emery Mounts and Wendy Snuff) is completely realistic.
Lighting Design is by JK Lighting Design (Jeffery Scott Auerbach and Kimberly Crago) and is faultless (there are a lot of lighting cues). The men’s suits are straight out of the 1960s, as are Susy’s wide belt and Gloria’s bell bottoms. Costume design is provided by Jean Schlichting and Krista White.
This production also sparks some comparisons to the last couple of years. What seemed safe is suddenly turned on its head and one realizes how fragile the ground really is. One either adapts to the changes or stalls. “Wait Until Dark” could be seen as a piece of nostalgia, but in its own sly way, it is a subtle commentary on the nature of safety, trust, and growth. Not bad for a thriller with an explosive ending, especially with this Susy, Roat, and Gloria—all worthy adversaries. Go see “Wait Until Dark” to say hello to an old friend and stay to enjoy the depth of acting and fireworks.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 20 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.
Show Advisory: Smoking, physical altercations.
“Wait Until Dark” runs in person through November 6, 2021, presented by The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, please click here.
Ms. Johnson has worked in theatre for 10 years as a house manager; and has also volunteered as an usher at numerous theatres in the Washington metropolitan region. She has a long-standing affinity for theatre, going back to seeing the original Man of La Mancha as a child.
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