Did I scare you? Evidently not, since you’re still reading this paragraph and not shivering and weeping in a corner. Actually, it’s kind of hard to really scare people, which is what the old chestnut Wait Until Dark aspires to do.
But in this misbegotten production at Great Lakes Theater, there are virtually no thrills and a remarkable absence of chills. Written by Frederick Knott in the 1960s, the play has not aged well for a number of reasons. And there are so many gaping holes in the plot, it looks as if it had been mounted on a shooting range for semi-automatic rifle practice.
As you probably know, it’s all about some bad guys who learn that a doll loaded with heroin has been acquired unknowingly by Sam Hendrix. And it’s now in his apartment, which is also occupied by his blind wife Susy, so a big meanie called Roat and his two henchmen decide to find drug-stuffed dolly. When they can’t, instead of acting like gangsters and trashing the joint, or torturing Susy, they come up with an elaborate con that has so many moving parts it looks like a Rube Goldberg drawing that Rube himself rejected for being way too complicated.
To wit, the henchmen (played by a fitfully amusing David Anthony Smith and a flat-lining Nick Steen) pose as, respectively, a cop and a friend of Sam. And they set up signals for each other involving opening and closing blinds in Susy’s basement apartment, while Susy establishes her own secret signals (two rings on a phone, pounding on the pipes) to communicate with a young girl (an uncomfortably strident Elise Pakiela) in an upstairs apartment, who plays a pivotal role because—
Oh never mind. It goes on. Of course, these are flaws that have always been in the script, and have been overcome, particularly in the movie version starring fragile Audrey Hepburn as Susy.
In this telling Jodi Dominick takes on that role and her immense strength as an actress actually works against the effectiveness of the play. As Dominick interacts with her mostly absent husband Sam (Jonathan Dryud) and the gangsters, she displays plenty of pluck and determination. Dominick’s Susy is so capable, with a ready wit, that it’s difficult to believe that she would be reduced to tears and whimpering later on.
In the role of Roat, Arthur Hanket is initially rather sly and slimy, which works well. But as the climactic scene progresses, he takes his characterization so over-the-top it becomes more laughable than terrifying. Director Joseph Hanreddy doesn’t help much, since this scene is played in shadows and the audience can’t quite follow what’s happening. As a result, the supposedly shocking final coup de grace is about as compelling as opening a refrigerator door in pitch-blackness and confronting…an old jar of mayo.
Scenic designer Scott Bradley has created a very serviceable space for this play to occupy, but lighting director Rick Martin never solved the problem of how to stage a long scene in the dark. And that’s a problem when the play has the D-word in its title. Perhaps a better name for this production would be: Wait Until The Next Show.
It’s Hamlet, by the way. No plot holes there.
Wait Until Dark
Through March 12 at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre, 2067 E. 14th St., 216-241-6000.