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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the October 18, 2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `Wait Until Dark’

Some chestnuts roast slowly over an open fire, and some

are just overcooked.

Bristol Riverside Theater, a cozy venue housed in an old movie theater

on the shores of the Delaware, opens its 14th season with Frederick

Knott’s old chestnut, "Wait Until Dark." To say that "Wait

Until Dark" has become a theatrical favorite since it first


on Broadway is an understatement. It is the murder mystery counterpart

to "A Christmas Carol," and in the last 34 years it has


been performed in every theater in the country at one time or another,

including high schools, community theaters, and a fair number of back


"Wait Until Dark" originally opened in 1966 at the Ethel


Theater to rave reviews. It starred Lee Remick and Robert Duvall,

and was quickly made into a hit film starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan

Arkin. Its most recent high-profile reappearance was in a slightly

updated version, staged in 1998, and starring Marisa Tomei and Quentin

Tarantino, that attracted audiences and took a critical flogging.

Part of the long-term success of "Wait Until Dark" has been

Knott’s successful melding of an intricate plot (a staple of any self

respecting murder mystery) with interestingly individualized


This is rare in a genre where characters are usually no thicker than

the blade of a rubber knife. Unfortunately, Knott’s characterizations

are built on stacks and stacks of words that, after a while, start

to hurt the ears. There are more words-per-minute in this play than

in your standard political stump speech.

A blind woman named Susy Hendrix (Susan Emerson) is left alone by

her husband Sam (Paul Kuhn) in their Greenwich Village home. She is

soon preyed upon by three criminals (Joe Gusman, Ray Iannicelli, and

Edward Keith Baker) who, attempting to use her trusting nature against

her, cook up a scheme to search for and seize a drug-filled doll they

believe is stashed somewhere in her apartment. Susy, of course, is

aware of the doll, but unaware of its contents. With the help of


(Cat Haas), her nine-year-old neighbor, Susy first becomes suspicious,

and ultimately holds back the men’s evil intentions until her husband

returns home with the police in tow.

Susan Emerson gives a solidly believable performance

as the blind Susy Hendrix, the woman who refuses to become a victim.

She plays her rather complex character, who seems naive but isn’t

dumb, with a subtle resiliency, never appearing ditsy, and never


In the early stages of the play, as her character trips over misplaced

chairs, and clumsily recradles the phone, Emerson avoids sinking into

a parody of blindness, but instead allows each annoyance its full

moment, dealing with it as a blind person would, and then moving on.

Later, while wielding a knife in the dark, she still retains the


of these earlier moments, avoiding any hints of cartoonish


Edward Keith Baker as the truly evil Harry Roat Jr. also gives an

exciting, successful performance. Cocky, in a young William Shatner

sort of way, he plays his character as a kind of sadist with a high

I.Q. At the same time, he manages to remain tremendously likable.

Joe Guzman and Ray Iannicelli as the other two crooks are less


playing their parts like humanized Daffy Ducks, with flat and broad

emotions for all to see. Cat Haas as the smart-mouthed nine-year-old

Gloria is appropriately little girl-esque.

Susan Atkinson’s direction is flexible and filled with natural


No one stands still for more than a moment, and they look fairly


doing it. Anyone familiar with the film version of "Wait Until

Dark" will immediately sense how much stronger the play works

on stage than on screen, and Atkinson uses all the theatrical tricks

to make sure this is the case. Rick Sordelet’s fight choreography

is awkward, however. In order for a stage fight to work it needs to

appear at least a little menacing. His choreography reminds one of

a bad ballet.

"Wait Until Dark’s" excessive wordiness is a liability in

this post-Columbo era in which we expect our mysteries served more

conveniently bite-sized. This performance lasts nearly two and a half

hours and the script could use a good axing. But I would imagine that

most people have seen "Wait Until Dark" before in one


or another, so they may not mind its length.

Bristol Riverside Theater’s production is competent and accomplished

and makes for an engaging night at the theater. Even if the play


is not much more artistically nourishing than a night at the movies.

— Jack Florek

Wait Until Dark, Bristol Riverside Theater, 120

Radcliffe Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. The season opens with the

thriller written by Frederick Knott, directed by Susan Atkinson.

Performances continue, Tuesday to Sunday, through October 29. $27 to


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