Three con men are trying to get hold of a doll stuffed with $50K worth of heroin. They believe the doll to be in the possession of a photographer and his blind wife and believe the wife will be an easy touch. But they’re about to discover how blind that assumption is. This is Frederick Knotts’ Wait Until Dark and it is currently playing at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre.
Knotts has a real gift for crime drama. His scripts tend to build slowly to create delicious tension as the plot works its way up brick by brick and then having the hammer drop when the tension is at its peak. This play is no exception to that rule, but it also has a terrific thrust and parry as the three con men trade off control of the situation with the blind woman until the final, epic confrontation where only one will win.
Jean Meachum’s direction is quite admirable. Due to the con game, this play is quite talky, but Ms Meachum prevents the play from being static by having the actors constantly moving about the stage, physically representing the ever present tension of the situation. She has also guided her thespians to solid performances and I loved the staging of the piece, especially the fact that the three con men tend to always be in the room with their blind target as their facial expressions and actions show how easy they think their victory will be.
Strong supporting performances are given by Ryan Drew as “Sgt. Carlino” and Libby Matthews as Gloria. Drew is so natural and extemporaneous as the not so mentally swift con man who constantly wipes off his fingerprints. Ms Matthews is perfectly bratty as the obnoxious child who lives upstairs, but proves she’s got a good heart when real danger threatens.
Colonsay Selby gives a stunning performance as the blind Suzy Hendrix. Ms Selby excellently conveys Suzy’s blindness with a thousand yard stare and never making eye contact with the other cast members. She also does it physically as her movements show that she is familiar with her apartment, but not overly so.
Ms Selby’s acting is also top quality as she well communicates the helplessness Suzy feels as she is still not used to her blindness, but also summons the grit, courage, and brains needed to survive this dangerous game with these 3 criminals.
David Shewell brings intelligence and smoothness to his portrayal of “Mike Talman”. This is a man who knows how to get what he wants from his marks and prides himself that he doesn’t need to resort to violence to get it. Shewell’s velvety rich baritone makes it easy to see how women (his usual targets) are taken in by him. But Shewell also gives a kernel of decency to his con man as he relents from using his obvious physical advantage over Suzy when she is at his mercy.
Joe Caronia is downright terrifying as “Mr. Roat”. Caronia’s “Roat” brims with confidence and you always have the sense that he is one step ahead of everybody else which allows him to take control of any situation. But what’s so spooky about him is how soft-spoken he is. All of his quiet words are tinged with an edge of menace that should put anyone he speaks to on guard. Justifiably so, as Caronia is such an awesome physical specimen that there is little doubt that his “Roat” could inflict great damage when the whim strikes. I also enjoyed Caronia’s versatility as he plays a couple of characters as part of the con who are night and day different from the menacing “Roat”.
The program lacked a credit for set design, but it was a splendid construct which had the look and feel of a basement apartment. The props of Sarah Oldham and Ernie Snyder really made the set seem like a real home.
There were a few line bobbles in the night’s performance and pacing and cue pickups needed stepping up to add to the play’s crucial tension. That being said, it didn’t put a damper on this thriller especially in the electrifying finale.
Wait Until Dark is an exciting nailbiter and it will keep you on the edge of your seat. Get a box of popcorn and ready your spine for tingling.
Wait Until Dark plays at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre through Oct 1. Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5pm. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children. For tickets, contact the theatre at 816-637-3728 or visit www.sobtheatre.org. Parental discretion is advised for this show. The Slightly Off Broadway Theatre is located at 114 N Marietta St in Excelsior Springs, MO.