|Taylor Jean Grady and Stan Yeend|
By Tina Arth
I only remember one time when a movie scared me so much that I was afraid to walk out of the theater into a dark parking lot – it was the late 1960s, and the movie was Wait Until Dark, a film version of playwright Frederick Knott’s 1966 play. Fast-forward 50 years, replace the mean streets of LA at 10 PM with the placid lanes of mid-day LO, and my reaction was a bit milder – but the show still left me gripping the arms of my seat. Director Nancy McDonald, her 6-person cast, and solid production team bring Jeffrey Hatcher’s 2015 adaptation to life with a slow burn that builds in intensity to a white-knuckle, chilling conclusion – bravo, Lakewood Theatre Company!
Hatcher’s adaptation varies in several ways from the original play and movie. He has moved the action from the 1960s to 1944, with World War II a silent drumbeat behind the play’s action, he has made subtle changes that give two female characters more complexity and strength, and he has recast the first scene in a way that allows for a key plot element to be more of a surprise. In a nutshell (carefully avoiding spoilers) a young blind woman, Susan, is living in a basement apartment in Greenwich Village with her husband Sam. On a recent business trip, Sam has accidentally brought home a smuggler’s doll, which disappears from the apartment before the doll’s owner and accomplices are able to reclaim it. Sam is called away again, and in his absence the criminals both deceive and terrorize Susan in their relentless pursuit of the missing doll. The presence or absence of light in the apartment determines whether Susan’s blindness is more of a handicap or an asset – hence, the title Wait Until Dark.
In a uniformly strong cast, three performances really sparkle, in part because each actor undergoes significant transformation through the course of the play. Taylor Jean Grady (Susan) completely commits to her character’s blindness, overtly and consistently using her listening skills to compensate for her visual handicap. Initially somewhat unsure and vulnerable (she has not been blind for long), Grady gradually reveals her character’s intelligence and inner strength as she evolves from victim to heroine. Mario Calgano’s “Mike” is a convincing ally as the trustworthy outsider who earns the audience’s confidence as quickly as he earns Susan’s. Calgano’s subsequent transformations are equally believable, and he fully earns his unusual anti-hero status. The big surprise for me is young Lana Sage, whose portrayal of Susan’s neighbor Gloria is mature, nuanced, and utterly authentic. Alternately funny, and sad, gawky and adept, sarcastic and loving, confident and needy, Sage captures all of the contradictions of adolescence in her performance.
Of the remaining three actors, Stan Yeend (as Sgt. Carlino) has the most stage time, and he creates the quintessential crooked New York cop with his physical bulk, bluster and irritating condescension. Paul Angelo’s “Roat,” the evil mastermind, projects a consistent and profound malevolence; his explosively unpredictable nature adds an extra layer of malice to the performance. The final role is that of Susan’s husband Sam, ably played by Daniel Zubrinsky but whose character is defined more in his absence than his presence – Hatcher’s script gives him short shrift. However, Zubrinsky’s role as fight choreographer merits high praise – it’s a very physical play, with no shortage of critically violent scenes.
A lot of the credit for the show’s terrifying film noir ambience must go to the gloomy set (by scenic designer John Gerth) and the marvelous lighting design by the team of Juniper and Nate Zwainlesk. Director McDonald exploits every dark corner of the single setting to enhance the show’s action and to keep up the show’s relentless pacing.
Wait Until Dark is playing at the Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Center for the Arts through Sunday, February 16th. Ticket information is available at www.lakewood-center.org