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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
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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