Wait Until Dark is one of those plays that we all feel we know. There cannot be any surprises left. Weíre wrong. Or, perhaps wrong is the wrong word; what we are, actually, is surprised.
The plot is an easy one. A doll filled with bags of heroin has gotten into the hands of the wrong people and the crooks who have discovered its whereabouts will go to any lengths to get it. These include harrassing and terrorizing a young blind woman who lives in a basement apartment on a small street near Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village.
As in any good mystery play written in the post-Hitchcock era - that is after he hit his American film stride - there is a Maguffin. Whatís a maguffin? Itís a false clue, sometimes a false start, that sets the audience and sometimes a detective off in the wrong direction. In this play itís the body in the closet.We never actually see it, but boy do we want to. Especially when we know the bodyís identity and what that person has been up to before the action of the play begins.
At the Ghent Playhouse, where this production plays weekends through February 4, the strengths of the play are emphasized in the strengths of the players. Unfortunately the playís holes are equally well represented by the actorsí weaknesses.
Paul Murphy has some really great moments when his own brand of sinister comes out. His solo scene with the frightened housewife, for example, is terrific. More playing on that level from him would have been welcome, but in the opening scene his portrait of Harry Roat, Jr. is just too weak and liverish. His portrayals of the father and son invaders of the apartment are just fine, almost funny which is right for them. He is just inconsistent and as a result we lose sight of the hungry crook underneath the sham. Thankfully, there is his final scene which is what we should remember. Itís great.
His two partners in crime, Tracy Trimm as Carlino and Michael Meier do a bit better at remaining in character. From their first meeting to their final moments on stage they are who they claim to be. If Trimm could be a bit more off-putting and Meier a shade more charming they would be the perfect team, but as it stands they both do very well in their roles. Meier is particularly effective in his more emotional moments and we can believe that he might regret his part in the plan.
As the upstairís neighbor, Gloria, Grace Rugen is just divine. Hereís a nine-year old anyone would be justified in hating. She is bratty, rude, hostile and helpful when its really needed. She is making her debut with this company in the role, but her background and experience is extensive and it shows through (be sure to read her bio in the whoís who). Hopefully the company here will find a role for her next season as well. That would be interesting.
Matthew Sikora has the weakest role in the play, Sam Hendrix, the husband/photographer. He is also the weakest of the principal players, giving very little in his scenes with Suzy, his wife. A better dynamic between the two of them might have added some much needed credibility to the story concocted by the crooks as Suzy attempts to come to grips in her own mind with what is real and what is not real.
Jody Kordana plays Suzy with a reality that is special. We believe that she is blind. We believe that she is in love. We believe that she is trusting and we believe that she can survive anything even when the proof is right before our eyes that she cannot. She has taken on the part with every inch of her body and every ounce of her intellect. It is her performance that makes everyone in the audience really feel like a fly on the wall in that basement apartment. This is a transforming feat of acting. Ghent Playhouse take note: She comes back or we donít!
The set, designed by Robert Bisson is definitely Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Even the "ice box" is right. Costumes by Joanne Maurer, likewise, are the right stuff in the right place at the right time. The lighting designer is not credited as such but is probably Bradley Fay who needs to practice his cues a bit more and trust the script. There was too much light on the stage during the late scenes in the second act. Here one needs to trust the actors, trust the script and even trust the audience. Dark, as in the title, is better.
Itís the surprises here, however, that need to be emphasized. Even though the script is familiar and the twists and turns are pretty well known, when the show is live and in front of you, and thereís such good work up there on the stage, every shock that the playwright intended is still a shock, still somehow new and still so worthwhile. As thrillers go, this one will always grab us and with John Trainorís fine directorial hand and Jody Kordanaís superb playing, itís so very much a donít miss experience. Gasp! Scream!!
◊ 01-19-2007 ◊
Paul Murphy and Jody Kordana
Jody Kordana and Grace Rugen
Wait Until Dark plays at the Ghent Playhouse, located just off Route 66 in Ghent, New York, January 19-February 4. For reservations, call 518-392-6264.