Mel Gumina as Susy Hendrix and Up and Down on the Staircase, Adam R. Adkins as Roat, Brendan Chaney as Sgt. Carlino and Brendan Quinn as Mike Talman. Photo courtesy of LTA.

Frederick Knott wrote the psychological thriller “Wait Until Dark” in the early 1960s and the film version (1967) starring Audrey Hepburn is rated by AFI and Bravo as one of the scariest films ever produced. In the production of the LTA, it doesn’t really get a lot of thrills until the explosive is about 15 minutes, then you can really feel the tension building up.

Go to ‘Wait Until Dark’ to say hello to an old friend and stay to enjoy the depth of acting and the fireworks.

Before that, it’s a cat and mouse game. Sam Hendrix returned to Greenwich Village, New York, from a business trip with a doll that Lisa, another passenger, asked him to keep until she could pick it up and hand it over to a relative in the hospital. How anyone could have bought this story is implausible. But that brings two crooks into Susy’s world: Mike Talman (Brendan Quinn) and ersatz Sgt. Carlino (Brendan Chaney), both recently released from prison. They believe the Hendrix apartment is Lisa’s house and they begin to ransack it for the doll. They are interrupted by Mr. Roat (Adam R. Adkins) who blackmails them into cheating on Susy to get the doll. Roat knows who owns the apartment and realizes that Susy and Sam have no idea what drugs are in the doll.

Susy (Mel Gumina) was blinded in an accident a year ago and six months later married Sam (Ryan Washington), a photographer. She is confident within the confines of the apartment (everything is mapped out in her head) except when the lonely little girl, Gloria (Julia Stimson for this performance; Juliet Strom is the other Gloria) who lives upstairs, moves things in Susy’s apartment in fits of stray dive. Ironically, she also helps him with the groceries. As Susy, Gumina does a truly believable job as a blind woman. At one point, when she starts to fall on a kitchen chair that Gloria left in the middle of the room, you instinctively see the audience lean forward to catch up with her. Gumina also provides a very satisfying emotional arc for her character – from her initial terror that Sam might be falsely accused of killing Lisa, her realization that she is being played, to her strength in alliance with Gloria to help outsmart these men and survive. You watch her learn to trust herself and use all of her power.

Gloria de Stimson is an angry and hurt little girl. She doesn’t play on our sympathies, but shows a remarkably mature emotional range as a child who grows too fast and comes to terms with her reality.

Of the three men, Adkins has the most impact. He seems to channel his Alan Arkin (who played the role in the film). He is witty, courteous, intelligent and icy. He never deviates from his goal. Quinn and Chaney work very well together as two little crooks that are sticking out of their heads. You almost feel sorry that they confront Roat and then Susy.

Ryan Washington as Sam has the same problem as in the movie version: there just isn’t enough time to really develop his character. He’s all about business and practices a kind of hard love so that Susy is up to speed on navigating New York City without taking a cab or relying on anyone except Gloria. To complete the cast, Bill Gerry and Michael Townsend are the real cops who stop at the apartment to question Susy and the rest of the neighborhood.

Director Heather Benjamin did a great job recreating a 1960s sense of place and keeping the action tense. The scenography of the scenographer Julie Fischer is inspired. She did a really wonderful job with the interior of Susy and Sam’s apartment where all the action takes place. I’d love to know where she got these purple / yellow vinyl and metal kitchen chairs and table. The set construction is also by Fischer and the set painting of Mona Wargo (assisted by Dorothy Cass, Hanna Finn, Janet Kennelly, Emery Mounts and Wendy Snuff) is completely realistic.

Lighting Design is by JK Lighting Design (Jeffery Scott Auerbach and Kimberly Crago) and flawless (there are a lot of lighting clues). The men’s suits are straight out of the ’60s, as are Susy’s wide waistband and Gloria’s bell bottoms. Costume design is carried out by Jean Schlichting and Krista White.

This production also gives rise to comparisons with the last two years. What seemed safe is suddenly overturned and we realize how fragile the ground really is. Either we adapt to the changes, or we stall. “Wait Until Dark” might be considered a piece of nostalgia, but in its devious way, it’s a subtle commentary on the nature of security, trust, and growth. Not bad for a thriller with an explosive end, especially with this Susy, Roat and Gloria, all worthy adversaries. Go to “Wait Until Dark” to say hello to an old friend and stay to enjoy the depth of acting and the fireworks.

Duration: About an hour and 20 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.

Show notice: Smoking, physical altercations.

“Wait Until Dark” runs in person until November 6, 2021, presented by The Little Theater of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, please click here.

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