Intense WAIT UNTIL DARK at Bridge Players in Burlington

by Jack Shaw

This was a good night for theatre at the Bridge Players’ very successful production of WAIT UNTIL DARK. What the first act may have lacked a bit in character development and tension, the second act more than made up for it in suspense and excitement. I was very much impressed with the commitment and care the actors and director gave this play. The bashing and crashing had to hurt, but it certainly thrilled the audience.

Sophia Chascsa as "Gloria" and Kori Rife as "Susy" in Bridge Players Theatre Company's production of WAIT UNTIL DARK, running in Burlington, NJ through October 22.

In spite of some minor flaws, which I will attribute to the lack of research and rehearsal time that often plagues a community theatre show, this is one of the best WAIT UNTIL DARK productions I have seen.

Gabrielle Affleck, the first-time director, is to be congratulated for taking on such a tough show and making it work. Performing a play of this caliber with the right amount of suspense and intensity is definitely a judgment call–and the director and actors made some very good calls. It is not as easy as it looks in a show like this. Timing has to be just right. The blindness has to appear real and recent. The con men need to be tough enough, but not too tough or buffoonish. Gloria, the little girl, has to be real and there has to be chemistry with all the characters–even Roat. Community theaters and novice directors don’t usually take on Frederick Knott’s WAIT UNTIL DARK because, without a lot of digging into the characters and reading much into relationships, it can easily become a lackluster production.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen here. Gasping and oohing at the appropriate moments, the audience seemed totally involved with the natural performances. While I may have worked for a little more tension and suspicion in the first act, overall, the show was engaging and interesting, more mystery than suspense in the first act and brilliant climax at the end.

Although this is truly a decent production, the play, WAIT UNTIL DARK, has more depth than many people realize, as so much happens on the surface, so fast. In every production, there are moments missed, mostly due to characters not being fully developed. For example, in this production, the two con men who meet after years in prison would be a little more put off and suspicious of the other, even though they knew each other before. Then, when they discover someone has brought them together so mysteriously? They would test the interloper, Mr. Roat, even more than each other, and they themselves would be seen as more desperate and nervous. Roat would respond coolly with a solid but quiet toughness. Instead he responds with an unnatural demeanor, meant to intimidate the others, and yet this seems a bit put on at this point-like someone playing at being Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western. We need to see the cons fear this man early on or the ending doesn’t work as well.

Ed Clarke did a fine job with “Mike Talman,” making him an agreeable fellow–a perfect con man, but sometimes it is hard to remember he is desperate himself. John Weber was fun to watch as “Sgt. Carlino,” but again we have to wonder is his character capable and desperate enough to hurt someone? Neither Talman nor Carlino appear physically threatening. At the end, when Susy confronts Mike, we know without thinking that Mike is not going to harm her because he has always appeared to be the good guy. There is the real thug wrapped in the con man package, or there should be, but we can’t see it.

Corey Stradling’s best moments as “Mr. Roat” were definitely in the second act and there he shines brightly. In the first act, I could see his downplay of overt “thuggishness” as a way of being cool equating to “scary” when the others are nervous, and it almost works–except I didn’t buy that the others would cave without some sniffing and prodding. Talman and Carlino allow Roat to be in control–because of the logic he gives them–not because they fear him. This initial reaction–this fear, is essential for the tension to build along for those characters as well. Stradling’s Roat is quite believable later when he lets some of the character’s sinister behavior come out, and we see some nicely intense and exciting moments. For his first act, I would suggest a quiet intensity coupled with coolness might work better.

This play is not just about Susy and her desperate moments; it’s about the others as well and their conflicted lives. Even “Gloria” nicely portrayed by Sophia Chasca has her share of conflict. New glasses, kids poking fun, and she takes out her frustrations on Susy, which puts in conflict with adults now, too.

Kori Rife did an excellent job with “Susy” (it is an extremely challenging and complex role); however, she didn’t seem helpless or giving in to her handicap as much as I felt her behavior made her husband, “Sam,” appear to be domineering instead of  forcefully supportive. She has a conflict with who she is now (blind) and the same inner intensity that everyone else has waiting for a trigger to release it; even Sam, who married her soon after her accident and has to deal with her emotional grief over losing her sight. How can the marriage move forward normally when she is stuck in place emotionally? Now, she’s confronted with the idea that her husband may have been having an affair that continued after the marriage. Why did he marry her then? Pity? There seems to be a lot possible emotion going on that adds tremendous depth to the characters and richness to the play that is easily missed.

I thought John Colona was fine as “Sam,” and could see him as the photographer type. For the brief time we see him, he is the strong support for her–only Susy doesn’t admit it. In fact, I think she may even resent it. I understood the runway that was Susy’s safe zone where she knew there was nothing to get in her way, but it seemed a little too pat, and she relaxed the blind act a bit.

I can appreciate the bruises most of the cast received during rehearsals and will continue to receive by bumping into furniture as they have to to keep it real.

With a play this complex, it is understandable to not catch every nuance. I’m sure I didn’t catch every stellar moment either, but when the audience can appreciate what they are given with such enthusiasm, you must have done something right, and I won’t argue with that. It may not have reached it’s fullest potential tonight, but who knows? There’s more to come.

by Frederick Knott
Directed by Gabrielle Affleck
October 7-9, 14-16, 21-22, 2011
Broad St. United Methodist Church
36 E. Broad Street
Burlington, NJ 08016

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