We’re conditioned to think there’s power in numbers. Consider the five senses. A person with all five is at a distinct advantage over someone who only has four, right?
Especially if the one with four is blind and sharing a confined space with an avowed killer.
But, as we slowly learn in the suspenseful stage production of “Wait Until Dark,” directed by Denise Graziani, the math doesn’t always add up so neatly.
Key to this crisply designed — and in a few choice moments, jump-in-your-seat scary — Good Company Players production is a rousing performance by Danielle Jorn as Susy, a recently blinded woman who gets caught up in desperate power struggle with a trio of hardened criminals.
The stage play, which inspired the well-known 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn, has a pulpy, B-movie detective-style plot. The three criminals are trying to find a mysterious doll filled with $50,000 worth of heroin. They think the doll is in the Greenwich Village apartment belonging to Susy and her husband.
The wrinkle, of course, is the blindness factor.
During the course of the intrigue, Susy ranges from skittish and melancholy to hysterical and steely. Jorn gives a concentrated, ennobling peformance — eyes open wide but “unseeing” the whole time — that lets us get into her character’s head, if you will.
Then, thanks to Frederick Knott’s script, everything gets dark for a while, leveling the playing field for all concerned. David Pierce’s ramshackle apartment set and Jennifer Sullivan’s moody lighting design add to the effect.
Peter Allwine and Michael Wirtz, as the two reluctant criminals dragged into the scheme, offer strong supporting performances.
Mohammad Shehata, as the creepiest villain — he calls his knife “Geraldine” — is compelling, his soft voice often forcing the audience to strain to hear his menacing whisper.
An accomplished Chelsea Newton, as a little-girl neighbor (she shares the role with Elena Aguirre), adds some tension as well, first in her bickering with Susy and then when the pair joins forces.
Still, for all the suspenseful sizzle of the plot, this “Wait Until Dark” lacks the strong direction it needs in pivotal moments to really be stellar.
It all comes back to power — or what you might call shifts in power. In the first act, there’s a moment when Shehata’s character, Mr. Roat, who has the upper hand over the two other thugs, suddenly loses that advantage. He’s on bottom and they’re on top, if only briefly. That moment rang false for me on opening night. I didn’t “feel” that dramatic shift in power as much as I should.
The same issue arises in the second act, much of which involves an extended cat-and-mouse intrigue between Susy and Roat. The technical aspects here are wonderful, with split-second changes in lighting and blocking adding to the effect. And, again, Shehata is convincing as the menacing villain. But when the balance of power shifts (several times) between the two characters — when that villain momentarily becomes the scared underdog — some of the intensity is lost on Shehata’s part. The audience needs to revel in those key transitions, which truly are the heart of the play.
Still, I think there’s room for the production to grow over the course of the run. Overall, it’s an involving evening of suspense, and Jorn is terrific in this role. She really makes this “Dark” shine.