Our scene opens on a typical New York City basement apartment in 1944. It’s dark, illuminated only by an outside streetlight.
We see a man walk past the window over the kitchen sink. He enters the apartment and lights a cigarette. He wanders to the refrigerator, its light spilling out. He samples some of the leftovers inside, and in short order is joined by another man. Together, they craft a plot that sets “Wait Until Dark” into motion.
It’s important to note the light, because the play, now on stage at Interplayers Theatre, is anchored in the battle between light and dark, good and evil, vision and sight.
The men in the opening scene are not residents of the apartment they’ve entered. They’re criminals in search of something they believe is hidden there. The apartment is home to a young married couple – Sam, a photographer who saw too much during his time in World War II Italy, and Susan, a woman blinded in a car accident 18 months earlier.
Carlino (Jonah Weston) at first isn’t sure about this plan to retrieve a doll that Sam was given accidentally. But Roat (Gerald B. Browning), the man who wants the doll, is persuasive, and quite sinister about it.
When Susan (Jessi Little) returns to the apartment unexpectedly, the two men realize she’s blind and begin work on a con designed to get them the doll. They lure Sam (Damon Mentzer) out of town with a last-minute photography gig, and set to work on Susan.
Their ridiculously convoluted plan seems to be thrown off kilter with the arrival of Mike Talman (Tony Caprile), a former Army buddy of Sam’s, and Gloria (Caroline Slater), the little girl from upstairs who helps Susan – or pretends to. It’s hard to see how Roat’s plan to retrieve the doll could possibly work until a big reveal at the end of Act I. From then, their schemes become crystal clear.
Susan, as played by Little, is strong-willed and sarcastic. When asked about her accident, she’s quick to quip that they were able to fix everything “except the headlights.” The actress does a convincing job of portraying a blind woman. We watch as she carefully works her hands over the dial of her rotary phone, counting under her breath to keep track of the number she had to dial next. Her voice reveals fear and frustration in equal measure.
Caprile portrays Talman as an utterly competent and helpful Army officer. When pushed to rage as Act II speeds toward its conclusion, however, he’s absolutely menacing.
But it’s Roat who is the real menace. When we first meet him, Browning has cast him as an odd and sinister character. I was reminded of Peter Lorre, only without the accent. It’s when Roat begins to come unhinged during the climactic battle with Susan that he shows his real stripes – and they’re terrifying.
Let’s talk about that final battle, which takes place on a level playing field for Susan – in total darkness. Even the exit signs in the theater are extinguished for this intense, violent scene. As she and Roat go head to head, fighting for control of the light, and fighting for their lives, it’s simply thrilling to watch.
Director Jack Phillips has kept the play moving at a brisk pace up until this point, at which he shifts the action into high gear. The lighting design, by Ezra Gerlitz, is truly standout. Light plays a key role in “Wait Until Dark,” and Gerlitz works with it to its full potential.
Whether it’s a single, lit cigarette in a dark room, or the flash of a strobe light, “Wait Until Dark” finds power in the light. Or in a blind woman’s control of it.