CENTERVILLE — Because I was a child that was afraid of my own shadow, I have never seen the movie or a live production of Wait Until Dark. Having grown up a bit, I was intrigued enough to ask to review the current production at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre, but still scared enough that I told my new husband that I needed him to come with me for protection.
Wait Until Dark follows the mysterious happenings surrounding a doll that Sam (played by Meish Roundy) unknowingly picks up from a strange woman in Canada at an airport. (The play clearly takes place before the era of constant warnings at the airport to not receive packages from strangers.) The doll, it turns out, has heroin hidden in it, and criminals Roat (played by Mike Gardner), Mike (played by Andrew Heyward), and Carlino (played by Josh Curtis), are all desperate to get their hands on it. Unfortunately for all, the doll is missing and they must work with Susy (played by Katie Plott), to try and locate the doll. Susy has two barriers herself to finding the doll: first, she is blind; second, her upstairs neighbor, Gloria (played by Stacey Haslam), has some secrets of her own regarding the doll.
The set design by Brian Hahn and lighting and sound by Jordan Fowler were extremely important to the ability of this production to be performed successfully. As the title suggests, darkness is its own character in this play. So, while turning off the lights may seem a simple task, to do so and still effectively convey the story is a beautiful element of the show. Additionally, the ability of the set to help tell the story of how a blind woman lives, and how many take for granted the ability to see, was conveyed with great power. Director Marinda Maxfield crafted a tightly knit production that allowed the actors to utilize the space, sounds, lights, and lack of lights to add to the suspense of the story.
Heyward and Curtis played a typical criminal duo with flair. It did not take much imagination to believe that Curtis was a tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks, and I really appreciated the cleverness of him making a sandwich while intruding in a house, as he was able to portray that characterization with ease. Heyward had one of the best character arcs in the story, and I enjoyed watching him grow in empathy and wrestle with the conflict of doing the job and battling his own feelings of humanity.
Haslam as Gloria was an intriguing character for me, as I was not sure in the beginning where this subplot was going. While the starting annoyance of a little girl was a bit much for me, Haslam won me over with her quick comedic wit and ability to embody the innocence found in youth, as well as the wisdom adults tend to forget. One of the best lines, at the end of the show, is delivered by Haslam to remind the audience that Susy has the capability to care for herself.
Plott’s performance was one of the highlights of the evening. Having spent most of my career with my day job working in the field of disabilities, I am sensitive to the accurate portrayal of disability in theatre. Plott’s character was a woman who had been blinded in an accident about a year ago, and Plott seems to have grasped the challenges as well as the mannerisms of someone in such a situation. She also reflected well the strengths that can be gained by focusing other senses to make up for lost sight. One of the best assets of Plott’s performance was the realistic fear that was in her voice, breathing, and presence, as well as the quiet contemplation of one who is used to having to put together pieces of an unfinished puzzle to try and comprehend what was occurring around her. Sam is seen much less in the show, but there was an obvious care and chemistry between Roundy and Plott that was endearing and gave me a reason to root for Plott to manage the situation victoriously.
Suspenseful, scary shows like Wait Until Dark benefit from an appropriate supervillain, and Gardner exceeded expectations with his performance as Roat. From his first entrance, where he clouds the room with mystery, to his final moments that actually had me jumping out of my seat, Gardner maintained a sense of creepiness that gave me the feeling of being a little kid wanting to hide behind my hands—but continue to peek and see what he is going to do next.
Wait Until Dark is suspenseful, thanks to the skillful directing and strong acting, but the truly scary parts do not come until the intriguing and electrifying end. And if you are as jumpy as I am, then I suggest bringing along someone that you can grab onto.