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Stage: Wait Until Dark at Lee Street Theatre
A wry heroine, a cohort of criminals, and an airtight noir thriller combine for the high point of Lee Street's 15th season (so far).
What lurks in the shadows at Lee Street Theatre? A wry heroine, a cohort of criminals, and an airtight noir thriller, that’s what.
In Frederick Knott’s mid-century play about a home invasion gone awry, Susan’s husband Sam is unwittingly entangled in the unsavory activities of a group of thieves. They offloaded their haul on him to avoid capture, and he has gone home with the goods unawares. The bad guys return to recover their stash while Sam is out, and they assume Susan, struck blind only a few years prior, will pose no obstacle.
Wait Until Dark
Lee Street Theatre
329 N Lee Street, Salisbury, NC
7:30 PM Feb 24 & 25
7:30 PM Mar 3 & 4
Wait Until Dark debuted on Broadway in 1966, but the film adaptation of the same name released a year later is more likely to be familiar to readers. It was a popular movie in 1967, and Audrey Hepburn earned Oscar and a Golden Globe nominations for what Time called an “honest, posture free performance” as Susy. The film is tense and well-acted on the whole, but changes to the original narrative structure leave it without some of the careful pacing and gut wrenching twists.
At Lee Street, the thrills from Knott’s original remain intact. Director Ryan Miles (who also plays Susan’s husband Sam) enjoys the tone of this noir slow burner, and he leans into it with satisfying results across the board. Cara Hayes as the plucky, obnoxious neighbor kid Gloria is funny and honest. Mason Livers, in the role of Sam’s friend and former marine Mike, delivers a strong, safe masculine energy. Both Susan and the audience yearn for these allies as things get hairier in the basement apartment.
On the other side of the coin, erstwhile police sergeant Carlino, played by Jonathan E. C. Wallace, indulges in a gangster accent out of 1940s Hollywood, and angles himself towards his adversaries with cartoonish menace. As the sinister antagonist Roat, Tim Campbell makes the role his own with an effete, aristocratic air that stands in stark contrast to his penchant for depravity. Miles’s choice to indulge in the pulpier side of the genre is fun, but it’s also smart: these familiar characterizations are the perfect foundation for a plot audiences would never predict.
As Susan, lead actor Julia Howard is captivating. A character who maintains a positive attitude despite an accident which has left her unable to see, Susan’s determination to remain able and happy also leaves her open to the con her adversaries are running. Her need to trust others in order to function seems an unfortunate weakness, but it isn’t Susan who needs to keep her guard up. Channeling old Hollywood a bit herself, Howard plays the character with a disarming humor and lilting charm that carries the production from beginning to end.
This enjoyable ensemble does not pull off the production alone. Along with character design, stage plays owe their success to lighting and sound. This is doubly true for Wait Until Dark at Lee Street. Its opening scene, a lengthy and quiet dance between Wallace, Campbell and Howard, is performed almost entirely in the dark. Only a light above the street level door, an open refrigerator, and a lamp on the other side of the room occasionally illuminate our characters as they work through the carefully choreographed stations of the scene.
An original atmospheric soundtrack puts the audience in a very real space during this surreal sequence of events. The ambient sound highlights the faint noise of traffic and passersby, the creaks of an old apartment building, and the buzz of the icebox. Designed by Raquel and Rod Oden, the deliberate, careful choices made for lighting and sound in this production are a constant reminder of the different dimension Susan has inhabited since her accident. With this unfamiliar fanfare, the audience is drawn into her reality. The sound and light are our guides as we gradually come to understand her limitations, as well as her advantages.
With Wait Until Dark, Lee Street Theatre does justice to a wonderful chamber play that should be performed more often. The blocking and pacing are carefully designed, and almost always support the natural tension of this 1966 classic.
Wait Until Dark runs for two more weekends. It is the high point of the theater’s season so far, and worth the trip to Salisbury.
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