Excellent WAIT UNTIL DARK Thriller at Tri-County Performing Arts Center

by He Said/She Said

L to R: Hannah Paczkowski as “Gloria” and Tara McFalls as “Susy Hendrix” in WAIT UNTIL DARK, running at Tri-County Performing Arts Center in Pottstown PA through October 17.

(He Said….)

by [author 10]

WAIT UNTIL DARK, by Frederick Knott, has to be one of the most suspenseful and thrilling plays performed since its debut on Broadway in 1966.  After seven previews, the Broadway show, with Lee Remick and Robert Duvall, lasted 337 performances.  The London West End production, with Honor Blackman, lasted twice as long.  The 1967 film was also successful earning an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Audrey Hepburn and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.  Knott’s other major play, is DIAL M FOR MURDER another well-known thriller.  It has been said of Knott that he is one of the most performed contemporary playwrights of the 20th Century (we’ll see how he does in the 21st); I think there may be other playwrights like O’Neil and Shepard, “the publicist” has overlooked, but I will certainly agree that it can be said for that Knott’s plays are certainly classics in the genre.

In WAIT UNTIL DARK, theatre audiences want to experience the vulnerability of Suzy Hendrix and her husband, Sam, the helplessness and desperation of all its characters, the realistic set, and a thrilling climax.  The Tri-County Performing Arts Center in Pottstown, Pa. presented WAIT UNTIL DARK to one of these audiences and we weren’t disappointed.

This was my first time at the Performing Arts Center and I was immediately impressed with its theatrical practicality of its space.  In a theatre that has no bad seats, I found the realistic set in front of me was a treat in itself with what appeared to be a working refrigerator, stove, washer, sink with running water, and ceiling lights and lamps.  I could only hope the other elements would be on par, and, for the most part, they were.  The sound and lighting were both perfect in design and execution, by the way.

Tara McFalls as Susy Hendrix was quite believable as a woman who lost her sight in an accident and is adapting to life without it.  McFalls performance is outstanding and consistent throughout the play.  Her relationship with husband photographer Sam, played by Paul Recupero, showed a natural and easy chemistry, a tribute to both actors.  I was also impressed with ten-year-old Hannah C. Paczkowski’s performance as Gloria, an initially bratty little girl who comes to Susy’s aid later in the show.  Anthony Marsala did a fine job with his Mike Talman character, who I felt needed the soft touch he gave it later when the real Talman or whatever-his-real-name-is comes out.  He was the “not so bad guy” and he got it perfect.

Overall the cast did a fine job with a show that can easily lose momentum and suspense if some goes awry.  Naturally, this is something a director does not want to happen;  when something is amiss, it distracts from show.  In spite of some truly wonderful performances, there seemed to me some blocking that lacked purpose, which made for some slow moments for me in Act I.  I did not care for the circling of the “bad” guys in the beginning.  Circling would be for bad guys of somewhat equal standing.  I think Harry Roat needs to dominate the moment as he dominates the lesser criminals, and that he doesn’t do as they dance around each other.  I understand where the idea comes from; however, the more powerful the “bad” guy, the less he needs to worry about his underlings.  This is a weakness, albeit it may be a weakness in the script.  When Harry Roat comes on the scene, he does not see himself equal to the petty criminals he sees before him, and he should be able to intimidate them with a look, a beat of silence or a slow steady hand gesture; here he dances around and acts the “crazy” bad guy, which is not what I think Knott is after.

I wasn’t sure why he had to smoke (a joint?) and refer to needle marks on his arm—at least his gestures seemed to indicate that.  Now, I’m confused.  If he is a junky himself, he makes himself an even weaker bad guy.  Drug dealers, especially smart ones, don’t generally partake of their own product.  His flipping the knife around made its appearance later less menacing.  Perhaps, it is more stereotypical, but a switch blade or gravity knife might have made a better weapon prop.

Rob Patey (Sergeant Carlino) did an excellent job at being similar to his bud in background, Mike, but different in personality.  I didn’t much care for the apron bit at the beginning.  True, it fits what we know of his past, but he didn’t have to put it on.  When he did, it became shtick.  One thing that seems to have been missed is that these guys aren’t just con-men (this is the role they are playing with Suzy), they are desperate ex-cons.  One person is pushing them, and hard.  We weren’t feeling it until we learn of the consequences in the second act.

It is so hard in a play where an actor has to look for things, fiddle with things, and remember lines, character and blocking, all the keeping the scene tense, tight and suspenseful.  One thing is to make it real.  One of Carlino’s jobs, it seems, is to come into the apartment and continually search for things; in fact, everyone searches for things.  When “looking for something,” give it a register.  The audience doesn’t always read a quick glance at something and notice you actually saw it.  I thought the props throughout the set gave performance all a sense of realism.  Seeing a fridge that actually looked like it was filled with food was a wonderful realistic touch.  And so it should go with the rest of the show.

Realism is what this show is about, but is it?  Why doesn’t Suzy leave when she has the chance?  Of course, the guys would have nailed her leaving.  One murder aside, why not just torture the information out of her?  If any of those situations had occurred we wouldn’t have the show.  That wasn’t the show Knott wrote.  Still, The Tri-County Performing Arts Center’s WAIT UNTIL DARK is an excellent show; so much hard work and attention to detail is necessary for authenticity and the outstanding individual talent and a fine group effort definitely shows here.

(She Said….)

by [author 9]

Remember the film, “Wait Until Dark”, with Audrey Hepburn (1967)? Say yes. How could anyone ever forget the scene where Ms. Hepburn, acting blind, is in an apartment (lights out) and is being sought after by what appeared to be a crazed male. That’s all I recall, and I can, to this day, still see that scene in my mind. I thought it was the most fearful movie I had ever seen. (In truth, I really never saw that many.) This brief memory moved me enough to be curious about how the story evolves on stage. If you share this feeling, go for it! If you’re expecting suspense, you want be to scared out of your mind and you enjoy a thrill or two, this may not be the play for you. Not to worry, though, as Halloween is right around the corner.

This thriller, WAIT UNTIL DARK, by Frederick Knott, was a hit on Broadway in 1966 and re-appeared there in 1998. We like to think that revivals offer a fresh, improved version of the original. This was not to be in this case.

In Act I we meet Suzy and Sam Hendrix (Tara McFalls and Paul Recupero), newlyweds living in a Greenwich Village apartment in 1969. Suzy, blinded in a recent accident, is saying her good-byes to Sam as he is about to leave for a brief business trip. Our sweet delicate heroine will be home alone (of course) and is about to entertain the company of three ex-cons who separately enter her apartment. (It seems that NYC doors didn’t need to be locked in the 60’s.) The men are desperate to retrieve a doll that, in a convoluted way, ended up in Suzy and Sam’s apartment. I needed these hooligans to appear and act more thug-like. [In fact, I couldn’t help but notice that the slacks of Harry Roat (Michael Shoeman) were so neat and clean with the hanger crease still in them! Details. Leave it to a woman to notice.] Mike Talman (Anthony Marsala) and Sergeant Carlino (Rob Patey) just didn’t scare us enough. And I was sitting in the front row expecting to be shaking in my seat. (I can be as gullible as our Suzy.) However, the audience didn’t fail to react to the performance of Gloria (Hannah Paczkowski), the upstairs neighbor, as her role demanded that she be obnoxious at first, and she was! Her improved behavior later on satisfied us all. Kudos to you, Hannah! You have a career ahead of you … keep me posted!

Here comes something I will probably never (or hope to never) experience again in a theatre—ever! As Act II was full of the suspense we were patiently waiting for (dim lighting, thunder in the background and “evilness” lurking all around, we, the audience, got to enjoy the magical thrill of a cell phone going off, not once, not twice, but three times! THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW!

Back to Suzy who cleverly develops a scheme to nab the bums! It was enjoyable for me to watch her frail personality develop into a “don’t mess with me” attitude. Women, we never cease to amaze …

Before I check out, allow me to get excited about the Tri-County Performing Arts Center. In the center of downtown Pottstown is this adorable theatre with comfortable (stadium) seating and an elevator! The stage runs right into the seating. Talk about close! A very welcoming staff is there to greet and assist you. Hope you get to meet them.

Now it’s time for me to re-view the film “Wait Until Dark”. How about you?

Till the next show…

by Frederick Knott
September 30 – October 17, 2010
Tri-County Performing Arts Center (Village Productions)
245 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464

You may also like

1 comment

Leave a Reply