Happy early Halloween, everyone! The New Village Arts Theatre has produced a spooky new production of the classic suspense play, Wait Until Dark. Many people are familiar with this story, because it was turned into an acclaimed movie with Alan Arkin and a Oscar nominated performance from Audrey Hepburn.
Set in the 1960s, the thriller centers around a recently blinded woman, Susy Hendrix (Kristin Woodburn). Despite her condition, she lives a relatively ordinary existence with her photographer husband, Sam Hendrix (Brenon Christofer). Unfortunately, her life is put in jeopardy after three criminals, Harry Roat Jr. (Daren Scott), Carlino (Max Macke) and Mike Talman (Eddie Yaroch) start to believe that a heroin-stuffed doll is hidden inside her apartment.
What an intense experience this show provides. Co-founder and Executive Artistic Director of New Village Arts, Kiristianne Kurner, directs many lengthy sequences that are sometimes uncomfortable with extreme tension. From the opening seconds, it is painfully clear that a horrible crime or act of violence might occur at any given moment on stage.
An interesting fact is that a mentor of Kurner was Robert Penn, a master of drama who directed the original Broadway version. It makes perfect sense that Kurner would want to take on this emotionally heavy suspense tale.
Her decision to feature Wait Until Dark is touching and kind of a miracle, since it was originally supposed to open in Carlsbad last Fall. It was cancelled, due to budget issues. Fortunately, Kurner did not give up, and she should give herself a pat on the back for including it in NVA’s “Lucky 13” season.
Frederick Knott’s script is full of witty, and sometimes playful exchanges. The tale is very Hitchcokian, which makes sense since Knott wrote the screenplay for Dial M for Murder.
The ensemble all are natural in their performances. Woodburn is immediately convincing as a woman who does not want others to pity her. She depicts Susy’s terror and bravery with conviction.
Scott is terrifying and darkly comedic in his spare appearances portraying the leader of the con artists. The actor has a lot of fun playing with the different disguises Roat Jr. has and becomes more horrifying as Wait Until Dark reaches its climax.
Macke gets some big laughs as Carlino, the dumbest of the trio. His mellow personality provides some relief from the disturbing actions that occur.
As Mike, the most sympathetic villain, Yaroch actually makes the immoral individual pretty likeable. The scenes he and Woodburn share together are the most moving moments.
10-year-old actress, Abby DeSpain, delights as Gloria, a young girl who lives upstairs from Susy. She brings a lot of personality and humor to what could have been a thankless role.
Tim Wallace’s set is only comprised of a combination living, dining and kitchen area, where Susy and Sam live. Their home is at once both calm and chilling.
Silver screen lovers who enjoy and recognize original scores might be distracted at times by the use of music from several different flicks including There Will be Blood and Road to Perdition. The interpretation does not rely on this too heavily, and it helps that some of the more shocking scenes do not contain any music at all.
The ending to Wait Until Dark is almost unbearably harrowing. There is little to no use of light in the last 20 minutes or so, with some genuinely creepy jump out of your seats moments. Only sociopaths, like Roat Jr., will not be frightened by the danger that Susy faces in the conclusion.
Consistently gripping, well paced and scary, Wait Until Dark is a haunting live mystery. You might want to sleep with a night light after watching the unforgettable finale.