If, after Halloween and Hurricane Sandy, you still have an appetite for breathtaking moments and frightening drama, for tense periods of waiting and surprisingly long stretches of darkness, then Frederick Knott’s classic 1966 thriller, Wait Until Dark, currently playing at Theatre Intime on the Princeton University campus, might be just the show for you.
There is something reassuring about dealing with such matters in a fictional setting, in the confines of a theater, and murder mystery enthusiasts will especially enjoy this intricate, high-suspense thriller. Wait Until Dark starred Lee Remick and Robert Duvall in its original 374-performance Broadway run, then Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin in the acclaimed movie adaptation a year later (1967).
An ingenious set-up, some interesting character development, and no fewer than three formidable, contrasting and complementary villains here enrich the proceedings. The build-up to the central clash between a blind woman, aided by a young girl neighbor, and the ruthless con men looking for a mysterious doll filled with heroin is at times overly complex and confusing, at times lacking in verisimilitude. But the wild finale, when utter darkness levels the playing field for a duel between this blind woman and her adversary, provides abundant suspense and entertainment. The audience response of shocked terror was audible last Saturday night during the climactic scene, which, at least in the screen version, has been ranked tenth on Bravo’s list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Under the thoughtful, capable direction of Princeton University sophomore Michael Pinsky, Intime’s production of Wait Until Dark delivers an interesting, engaging evening with what Mr. Pinsky describes in his director’s note as a challenging, “technically adventurous piece of theater.” The undergraduate cast is generally strong, especially so in the villain department.
Misha Semenov’s sturdy, functional, detailed set — complete with period refrigerator and telephone, photography equipment for the protagonist Susy’s husband Sam, a safe, Venetian blinds — along with Collin Stedman’s lighting design, sound by Ben Schaffer and props by Jack Moore, successfully creates the 1960s Greenwich Village basement apartment and brings all the requisite details together for fulfillment of the complex plot.
Sarah Cuneo, in the central role as Susy, projects both beauty and strength, vulnerability, and an intrepid spirit, as she gradually realizes she is being conned, then struggles to concoct and carry out her plan to outwit her ruthless adversaries. Believable throughout as the blind woman trapped and terrorized, Ms. Cuneo displays a wide range of emotions and readily wins the audience’s sympathies, despite occasional lack of clarity in action and word, especially during her most panicked moments.
Mark Walter as the icy cool Roat leads the criminal trio. In black leather jacket, with a chillingly sing-song voice and a smooth, detached, sinister demeanor, this psychopath commands the stage, and his two henchmen, with authority. From start to finish the character leaves no doubt of his deadly determination to get what he wants.
Cody O’Neil as a smooth-talking, charming Mike, and David Drew as the physically imposing, slow-witted Carlino are both convincing in joining the team of crooks looking to get rich by finding the heroin-stuffed doll, which is supposedly in the possession of Susy and her husband Sam. As Sam, absent during most of the terrifying proceedings, Mike Freyberger is adequate, though there is little development or three-dimensionality to the Susy-Sam marital relationship.
Anna Aaronson’s Gloria, the young girl neighbor from upstairs, contributes some humor and proves crucial to thwarting the villains’ plot, though the age stretch — Gloria was written to be nine years old, and Ms. Aaronson must be at least twice that — is problematic and confusing in distorting both tone and characterization here. Blake Edwards and Mitch Shellman provide effective support as patrolmen, arriving at Susy’s apartment in the final moments of the play.
Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder (1952) are Frederick Knott’s two masterpieces in the thriller genre. For carefully calculated plot twists and roller coaster rides of fear and intrigue, they are hard to beat.