Vanessa White as Suzy HendrixTheatre Palisades reopened their Pierson Playhouse for live theatre on August 27 with WAIT UNTIL DARK, a suspenseful 1966 Broadway thriller by Frederick Knott. But perhaps this classic tale is best known to audiences from the 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn (who was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actress), Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, Julie Herrod and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. In fact, in 2001 the film ranked #55 on the American Film Institute’s One Hundred Year… One Hundred Thrills list and its climatic scene is ranked tenth of Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Its popularity remains intact, with the play often performed on stages around the world.
WAIT UNTIL DARK, is set in a 1967 Greenwich Village basement apartment where Susy Hendrix, a recently blind woman, is imperiled by a trio of strangers. Aided by her meddling young neighbor Gloria, Susie must fight for her life against these ruthless criminals, led by the sociopath Harry Roat, Jr. who has hired two con men in need of money (giving them the aliases of Mike Talman and Sgt. Carlino) to assist him in carrying out his mission to find a musical doll from Montreal hidden somewhere in her apartment that is more than just a toy.
But since Susy does not have the doll or know where it is, the men proceed to play a cat and mouse game with her to locate it - Roat for its valuable contents and the other two to get paid a hefty sum for assisting him. But when the trio attempts to convince Susy that the police need the doll as part of an investigation, and that her husband might be involved since he brought the doll across the Canadian border, Susie realizes these men are not who they say they are and her life is truly in danger every moment they are in her apartment.
As the tension builds, Gloria shows up with the doll! Susy then must figure out where to hide it as no doubt the men will soon return and search the place again, probably hurting her in the process. And after Gloria assists Susy by spying on the men through the kitchen window, Susie realizes her blindness might be the key to her escape! Thus, a suspenseful battle of wits begins, leading to a confrontation between the lady and the devil, culminating after darkness falls in this classic thriller’s chilling conclusion.
Directed by Tony Torrisi and produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne (who also designed the realistic set and lighting), the Theatre Palisades cast features Vanessa White as Susy Hendrix, Brett Chapin as Mike Talman, Manfred Hofer as Harry Roat, Josh Paris as Sgt. Carlino, Amanda Tugangui as Gloria, and Michael Wayne Osborn as Sam Hendrix, with each delivering a well-thought-out characterization. Perhaps since the cast had originally been scheduled to open the show in March 2020, no doubt the extra time to study lines and characterizations contributed to their deeper exploration and understanding of their roles.
I spoke with several of the actors after the performance, specifically to ask Vanessa White about her ability to so successfully inhabit a character without sight. She responded, “The most difficult part was not being able to look my fellow actors in the eye during our scenes together. But my reality is that I am legally blind without my glasses or contact lenses, which gives me personal insight in what it’s like to walk around your home when you cannot see things clearly.” In fact, Vanessa's movements were so specific, each time she walked the wall over to the bottom of the staircase, I saw her tap her foot there as Susy’s indicator on where she was. Same thing was true when she reached for the phone, often by grabbing the cord to lead her to the receiver.
Act 1 contains a lot of exposition, and as such, can often get bogged down timewise. That seemed to be the case on the night I attended on opening weekend, with the stage often left empty for no apparent reason. But I am sure well-versed director Tony Torrisi will work with his actors on picking up their lines and movement to quicken the pace during future performances. And while the final confrontation between predator and prey requires us to believe it is performed in total darkness and usually has viewers gasping and jumping out of their seats, unfortunately Sherman Wayne’s dark lighting design did not allow us to see that moment happen. But if his idea was to let us experience Susy’s fearful surprise from a blind person’s perspective, he totally succeeded.
WAIT UNTIL DARK continues on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm through October 3, 2021 at the Pierson Playhouse, located at 941 Temescal Canyon Rd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. Free on-site parking is available. Please note that masks must properly be worn while inside the theater, covering your nose and mouth, and proof of vaccination must be presented at the door for entrance. Tickets are $22 general admission, $20 seniors/students, available at 310-454-1970 or online at http://theatrepalisades.org/