Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay


Wait Until Dark
Spreckels Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Anna in the Tropics and Richard's recent reviews of Emily Skinner: Broadway, Her Way, Fool for Love and The Call


Denise Elia-Yen
Photo by Eric Chazankin
There are times when one wrong step, one element that doesn't blend with the whole, one performance that sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb can ruin something that would otherwise be perfectly acceptable. Think one out of tune clarinet in an orchestra, or a bit of rotten avocado that spoils the whole batch of guacamole. This happens twice in Spreckels Theatre Company's production of Wait Until Dark, the 1966 Tony-nominated play that became a popular movie thriller starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman whose husband becomes an unwitting drug mule, leaving her vulnerable to the nefarious intentions of a trio of criminals.

The first instance of this is minor, almost inconsequential: a contemporary Ikea lamp on a table, spoiling the otherwise period-specific furnishings and props in Elizabeth Bazzano's nicely realized set design. Unfortunately, this tiny detail foreshadows the far bigger spoiling element to come: the clumsy groping impotence of Susy Hendrix, the sightless woman in peril.

As played by Denise Elia-Yen, Susy stumbles around her apartment, arms out like a zombie, reaching gingerly for every table, chair or balustrade, trying to get her bearings, like Clarice in the killer's basement in Silence of the Lambs after being plunged into sudden darkness. Although the script makes clear Susy lost her sight in an accident only a year before, it beggars reason to think she would still need to move only at right angles and feel her way along every wall, or fumble for the refrigerator door handle, or overshoot the front door after all that time—in her own apartment, no less.

Fortunately, the play itself is a wonderful bit of theatrical suspense. We feel trapped in the small apartment where all the action takes place. And though there are some plot holes (which I won't go into, because they would be spoilers) the set-up and subsequent con are mostly tightly-constructed. If you like a thrilling story with plenty of plot turns, Wait Until Dark is a terrific choice. When things get dark here, they really get dark. Literally, at one point in act two.

The rest of the cast is mostly fine. Don Clancy does a wonderful job as Susy's photographer husband, Sam—though it's a minor role, as the bad guys (and playwright Frederick Knott) keep finding ways to keep him out of the apartment—and Susy's peril is so much more perilous when he's not there to protect her. Chris Schloemp also does good work as the ex-con with a soft heart who worms his way into Susy's trust. Erik Weiss is ominous as Harry Roat, the baddest of the criminal trio, though part of that might come from his visual similarity to Donald Trump, Jr., slicked-back hair and all. (Though his attempt at an Italian accent ends up sounding less like a mafioso and more like a Thai taxi driver.) Weiss clearly relishes getting to play such a creep.

Despite groping about like she's been blindfolded and dropped in an unfamiliar environment, Susy's auditory processing skills have apparently been incredibly heightened by her blindness. She senses the differences in the footfalls of different characters and can tell that one of the criminals had been dusting with a soft cloth.

There's a thrilling time to be had here, but unless helmer David L. Yen redirects Elia-Yen (who also happens to be his wife) to exhibit a little more navigational competence, the suspense will be undercut by her frail and feckless interpretation of what should be a powerful, competent character triumphing over her disability with bravery and cleverness.

Wait Until Dark runs through April 3rd, 2016, in the Bette Condiotti Theater at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. (except March 19th), with matinees at 2:00 p.m. on Sundays and on Saturday, March 19th.) There will also be a 7:30 p.m. show on Thursday, March 31st. Tickets are $16-$26 and are available by calling the box office at 707-588-3400. Box office hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The box office is also open one hour before showtime. Additional information is available at www.spreckelsonline.com.


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