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Last night, the Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy production of Wait Until Dark, Frederick Knott’s 1966 thriller that had Broadway and later movie-theater audiences figuratively jumping out of their skins, started slowly, but quickly generated the requisite suspense as three creepy con men (Ryan Lee Nazionale as Sgt. Carlino, Holden Hansen as Mike Talman, and Brian Norris as ring-leader Harry Roat, Jr.) play a cruel game of cat-and-mouse with blind homemaker Susy Hendrix (Jen Suchanec) in a dark and dingy basement apartment in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
This sinister trio is looking for a fortune in heroin hidden inside a musical doll brought back from Canada by Susy’s photographer-husband Sam (Adam Twiss) as a favor to a fellow airline passenger, who has since disappeared. So, they lure Sam away from the apartment and leave only a precocious neighbor-child named Gloria (Anastasia Hollis) to help Susy survive their murderous machinations. Unfortunately, the show’s climactic showdown — confusingly staged, mostly in complete darkness, by guest director John C. McIlwee — proved highly problematical. For those theatergoers who have seen the Audrey Hepburn-Alan Arkin movie version of Wait Until Dark — and who hasn’t — this stage show’s climax and denouement will disappoint.
But Jen Suchanec gives a warm and winning performance as the increasingly anxious Susy Hendrix, blinded as an adult during an automobile accident and still learning how to navigate her newly dark world with only her five senses and a cane. Brian Norris adds a menacing portrayal of criminal mastermind — and master of disguise — Harry Roat, Jr.; Holden Hansen makes Roat’s co-conspirator Mike Talman a reluctant pawn in this deadly game; and Ryan Lee Nazionale gives a gritty portrayal as light-fingered con man Sgt. Carlino. Terrific Triangle actor Adam Twiss is good but underused as Sam Hendrix; and Anastasia Hollis makes Gloria not quite the Bad Seed, but definitely a troubled preteen whose ongoing “issues” with Susy could unwittingly result in her death.
Director John McIlwee’s wonderfully detailed set and striking mid-1960s costumes for Wait Until Dark hit all the right notes, but his orchestration of the show’s action falters at the most crucial moment in the show. The set as one major flaw, instantly noticeable to all photographers in the audience. The room that serves as Sam Hendrix’s darkroom is separated from the rest of the apartment by grass curtains — which could never prevent ambient light from ruining Sam’s developing negatives and prints. There is also a rug — presumably the province of properties master Robin Hughes — that is too narrow for the nefarious purpose to which it soon will be put.
Lighting designer Curtis Lee Jones has the thankless task of dimming down his instruments so that key moments in this thriller can be played completely in the dark or in the near-dark. Unfortunately, he’s all-too-successful at the end of the play. Consequently, there is confusion about what happens and how — confusion that newcomers to this edge-of-your seat drama, who have never seen the movie, may find difficult to unravel on the drive home.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents Wait Until Dark Wednesday-Saturday, July 25-28 and Aug. 1-4, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 29 and Aug. 5, at 3 p.m. in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $27.50, except $20 Sunday matinees and senior group rates. Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates: 919/828-3726. Note: There will be FREE complimentary beverages and desserts at all intermissions.
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/shows.html#wud [inactive 2/10]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=9129. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062467/.