By SAM PHILIPS | Contributing Writer
Pierson Playhouse reopened its doors on August 27, presenting “Wait Until Dark,” which had been ready to open in March 2020, but was mothballed due to the pandemic closures.
Theatre Palisades is to be soundly congratulated that this production shows no signs of being sidelined for such a long time. It is solid, well cast, well acted and more proof that the theater lives up to its goal of Broadway quality with community heart.
I saw the opening night show, as well as a subsequent one. There was no lessening in quality between the two performances.
The playwright, Frederick Knott, was not a prolific writer—but what he wrote was choice. Besides “Wait Until Dark” (tied to the brilliant movie with Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin), he also wrote the crowd-pleasing “Dial M for Murder” (tied to another enjoyable movie directed by Hitchcock and starring Grace Kelly). And a terrific third play, “Write Me a Murder,” which Theatre Palisades presented in 2018.
“Wait Until Dark” concerns a recently blinded woman, Susy Hendrix, and her falling into a plot concocted by three con men out to find a valuable doll, which her husband was given while on a business trip.
The play opens with two of these chaps (Mike Talman and Carlino) inside the Hendrix’s New York City basement apartment, waiting to meet up with a crooked colleague, Lisa, who will give them some money.
Both men are recently released from prison. And are hard up. You might even want to feel sorry for them. But then they answer a knock at the door and find themselves being bound up in a deal by the sleek, evil Harry Roat, Jr. As the scene with these three unfolds we learn Roat has already killed Lisa, whose body is in the Hendrix’s bedroom. And he has trapped these two into his plot, pointing out that while they have been talking, the two men have left their fingerprints throughout the apartment while Roat has carefully worn gloves and studiously rubbed clean everything he has touched. They can easily be accused and convicted of Lisa’s murder.
Their deliberations are interrupted by the unexpected return of Susy, who goes about some business while the lights are out. Talks on the phone to her husband. Runs into a chair left in the wrong place, her first hint of something being amiss. Her orderly arrangements, which help her navigate the apartment, are askew—her first warning that something is not right. The play continues as the trio tries to use every trick and device they can think of to get Susy to tell them where the doll is.
The cast is outstanding as they bring these characters to life. Amanda Tugangui is great as the upstairs neighbor girl, Gloria, who helps Susy with shopping and other errands, and then lends a vital hand as Susy moves to repel the criminals. Amanda’s Gloria is refreshingly free of any cute, little girl behaviors, and comes across as a young girl dealing with the collapse of her parents’ marriage and rising to the occasion as Susy’s friend.
Vanessa White as Susy is exceptional. Often this role is cast with waifish actresses. Vanessa is a strong, young woman who projects the capability and lack of self pity needed to deal with a life or death situation. Her work is remarkable, and she very convincingly portrays a person who is blind and trying to navigate tight spaces while being stalked by danger.
The gentlemen are all fine, too. Josh Paris brings out an edgy, high-strung interpretation of Carlino. You can almost sympathize with his being, obviously, the low man on the totem pole. His physical work conveying this fever pitched nervousness is noteworthy.
Brett Chapin plays Mike Talman, a smooth con man pretending to be a wartime buddy of Sam’s. He gives a wonderful performance. He shows Mike’s desperation to get out of the arrangement with Roat as soon as possible, with the fewest casualties possible. The climactic moment in Act Two where an enraged and exasperated Mike charges at Susy … Chapin has a brilliant moment showing a man going from a position of deadly power to a collapse into a man realizing he is too decent to do what the plot requires.
Michael Wayne Osborn plays the husband, Sam. This is not a big part but he makes the most of it, most tellingly at the end when he bursts into the apartment looking for Susy. His cry of anguish is heart breaking and effective.
Last but not least, Manfred Hofer plays Roat. Hofer is all sinuous, sly, serpentine … projecting a character of evil without overdoing it with histrionics. His work, like that of the entire cast, is marvelous. He is restrained in his actions, but his delivery of the text is masterful.
Tony Torrisi is to be congratulated on casting and directing this group of fine actors. They do justice to the play. As usual, Sherman Wayne has put up a wonderful set. He also helped with the lighting design, which is effective. And Susan Stangl devised an equally effective sound design. Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne are the producers.
Theatre Palisades has delivered a top-notch production, and the community is going to be very pleased spending the proverbial two hours traffic of the stage watching this play come to life. Be sure to see “Wait Until Dark” before it closes on October 3.
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