Community theatre groups and audiences never seem to tire of the suspense thriller, especially Frederick Knott’s WAIT UNTIL DARK. Yes, it is a money maker, and yes, people love its ‘on the edge of your seat’ approach of wondering what is going to happen next. Despite a few hiccups in pacing on opening night for the Scarborough Theatre Guild, these actors fervently tackle this iconic thriller with passion and drive. As shows continue, these performers will most certainly strengthen, solidify and build the intense plot momentum.
WAIT UNTIL DARK is the story of Susy Hendrix, a blind woman, who is tormented by three thugs in her basement apartment who believe a supposedly valuable object is hidden within the flat she shares with her photographer husband, Sam. The 1967 film was a good adaptation for its time but, whenever I see this play, I hope a production team’s vision brings new insight to the text. The Theatre Guild brings a fresh look to this suspenseful story thanks to the concerted efforts of Mr. Siversky, Producer Linda Brent and Stage Manager Daniel Bell assisted by Ana Gonzales and Ryan Ash (who appear as police officers at the play’s conclusion).
As we enter the auditorium there is a 1960s homage of a terrific soundscape of music, compiled by Siversky and Steve Hurej, which escorts us back fifty years within mere minutes. People around me were humming and singing quietly along with the tunes (and, yes, I was too). When the performance begins, we are even treated to a sixties style video teaser by Eric Dubois reminiscent of what would have been shown in cinemas. Very effective, indeed.
Period piece texts always pose challenges for set decoration, props, costumes, make up and hair design. Kudos to Alison Overington, Maria Steventon , Daniel Bell, Gloria Worman and all those behind the scenes individuals for the painstaking work involved in the gathering of said materials, not an easy task to complete by any means. It is the backstage work in these areas which enhances character development and complements the established mood and environment of the play.
Gord Shannon and Siversky’s one room set design on the three-quarter thrust stage of the Scarborough Village Theatre immediately sets a claustrophobic and uncertain sense of a foreboding future. The staircase is somewhat jarring at first as I wasn’t certain if such a large one would have been found leading to basement apartments in 1960s Greenwich Village. By juxtaposing Messrs. Shannon and Siversky’s design with Eric Sullivan and his crew’s eerie and shadowy lighting design, the staircase and apartment become a striking image of a metaphorical descent into the darkness of the human soul. Rather clever and chilling visual effect courtesy of set builders Dave Widenmaier, Ron Remigo, Steve Doll and Britt Noll.
The last fifteen minutes of the play is staged in complete darkness with the odd bit of light, and it is here where the audience enters Susy’s world and terrifyingly experiences her ordeal through our own blinding darkness. Mr. Siversky gives credit to director Alfred Hitchcock who liked audiences to use their imagination when it came to violence. There was a hushed silence in the auditorium as I’m sure the audience was trying to imagine the involved characters and their carefully choreographed movements, combined with heightened emotions, all in jet blackness.
The key to believability of character development in a classic staged thriller is, hopefully, never to venture into melodrama where the performances merely becomes shlock; thankfully, Mr. Siversky’s staging does not go down this route. His uninterrupted cat and mouse movements of his actors allow us to witness who is in control, who is not in control, and how control is taken back once again. As Gloria, the daughter of the upstairs landlady, Nicole Burda captures beautifully the spoiled and bratty precociousness of the lonely young person who ultimately becomes Susy’s confidante. John Palmieri brings a natural likeability as Susy’s unsuspecting husband, Sam. We see a man who lovingly teases his wife, and yet is firm with her when necessary because he truly loves Susy and wants her to reach her full potential regardless of her blindness.
As Carlino and Mike Talman, Glenn Ottaway and Kevin Shaver offer diametrically opposing, yet intriguing characters who are intent on finding this hidden valued object no matter the cost. I have seen Carlino played as a mere buffoon in previous productions, but Mr. Ottaway delves further into his character’s persona to show us there’s more underneath the surface. Posing as a rather strange detective, Mr. Ottaway uses his voice and stature to con Susy through fear and intimidation, a far cry from buffoonery. Mike Talman, meanwhile, poses as a friend of Susy’s husband, Sam. Mr. Shaver confidently plays with Susy’s and the audience’s emotions as we truly want to believe those moments where he feels sympathy for the young woman and the predicament in which she finds herself. But in Act 2 where Talman recognizes Susy has duped him, Mr. Shaver’s forceful turn from the ‘bad guy with a heart’ to someone who is on the verge of destroying a life is frightening.
Tommy Boston is scary as hell as the quick thinking and kingpin thug, Harry Roat, Jr. His initial appearance a few minutes into Act 1 draws our attention immediately to him. Mr. Boston gives orders and expects they will be followed to the letter, or God help that Geraldine is not pulled out in retaliation. (You’ll get the reference when you see the play OR have seen the film). It was also fun to watch Boston’s performance versatility as he becomes Mr. Roat, Sr. to trick Susy into falling into a set trap for retrieving this hidden valued object.
It is obvious Silvina D’Alessandro, as Susy, is enjoying herself immensely in the role made famous by Lee Remick on Broadway and by Audrey Hepburn in the film. The rehearsal process must have been intense and rigorous for Ms. D’Alessandro as she convincingly makes us believe she has lost her sight. Additionally, the physicality of the role is one which requires a great deal of strength and stamina as it is imperative that Susy never becomes a ‘damsel in distress’ and allows her blindness to be a crutch. Ms. D’Alessandro’s performance does not cross that line as she always remains in complete control of her heightened emotions nor does she allow them to become melodramatic.
The genre of the suspense thriller will always pose challenges for any theatre company as there must be a community effort of all involved to ensure its success. In his Director’s Notes, Mr. Siversky writes about the creation of theatre magic, and this is exactly the goal of local community theatre. It takes the concerted efforts of everyone involved to pull off that incredible bit of theatre magic for an enjoyable evening of entertainment.
Performances of WAIT UNTIL DARK continue October 12, 13, 14, 19 and 20 at 8 pm and October 15 and 21 at 2 pm. All performances take place at the Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road, Scarborough. Contact the Box Office at 416-267-9292 to purchase tickets or visit the website for further information.