Tuesday, November 18, 2014

theatre review WAIT UNTIL DARK Arizona Theatre Company Nov. 15

To read my complete review at TalkinBroadway.com (excerpts below) click here.

Brooke Parks, Ted Koch and Craig Bockhorn
Playwright Frederick Knott wrote two of the most famous stage thrillers, Dial M For Murder and Wait Until Dark. While both plays also received equally impressive film adaptations, the shows are now somewhat dated with a few plot holes and overly complicated and long set-ups, so it's understandable that they aren't produced that often. However, a revised adaptation of Knott's 1966 Wait Until Dark premiered at the Geffen Playhouse last year and the Arizona Theatre Company is presenting this new version in a well-cast, nicely staged production that manages to elicit plenty of chills.

Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation changes the time period of the play, moving it back twenty years to 1944, and makes a few other slight changes in the plot, including an excellent updated act one ending that packs a punch. Hatcher's adaptation has eliminated a few holes in Knott's original plot, and by setting it in the 1940s has added the elements of film noir and the impact of World War II into the mix, both added bonuses.

Brooke Parks is impressive as Susan. With a forward and direct delivery of her lines and an excellent stage presence, she portrays this very strong woman who is also incredibly smart though a bit too trustworthy at first. As she slowly realizes what is going on around her, Parks effectively shows how the independent Susan uses her blindness as an advantage and ratchets up her defenses so as not to become a victim herself.

Ted Koch is good as the deranged con artist Roat. He gets to play several different characters as part of Roat's plan to deceive Susan and, in a testament to Koch's abilities, each one looks and acts completely different. While Koch does project an appropriate sense of menace and rage as the out of control Roat, I just wish there were more of a sense of danger in his performance so I could truly believe he would actually do harm to Susan.

Director David Ira Goldstein is successful with his staging, effectively using just about every inch of Vicki Smith's superb basement apartment set to let the action unfold. He also gets nuanced performances from most of his cast, especially Parks and Rini. Even though the updated adaptation fixes a few of the shortfalls in the original script, the first act still takes a very long time to set up all of the plot elements and is overly talky, and unfortunately, Goldstein can't really do anything to remedy those issues.

Smith's set features many excellent period specific props and furnishings and includes the underside of the stairs to the floor above in the set's ceiling design. Don Darnutzer's lighting design provides plenty of "noir"-ish dark and moody moments, with shadows from outside streaming into the apartment through the venetian blinds, plus the appropriate thrill-inducing scenes, including a few in near total darkness. The design choices are impressive.

Experiencing the play live, with the thrilling climactic sequence playing out in front of you in near total darkness, is something you just can't get from the film version. The Arizona Theatre Company production has a more than competent cast, lush design elements and good direction, and, even with just a few shortfalls, still manages to be chilling and full of suspense.

Photo: Ken Huth

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