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April 11, 2017 > Wait Until Dark: An Enlightening, Empowering Neo-Noir

Wait Until Dark: An Enlightening, Empowering Neo-Noir

By Philip Kobylarz

Darkness, as metaphor, abounds in Chanticleers Theatre production of Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark. This thriller, set in a New York City of the hip 1960s, features a mental labyrinth of a plot, a devious play within the play, a climax that happens in pitch blackness, and a certain vanguard feminism that was cool before it was supposed to be cool.

Lisa, a small time smooth criminal, acts as a mule for a heroin transaction. In Montreal, at the airport, she spooks and passes a musical doll containing contraband sewn inside to an innocent bystander/professional photographer named Sam. He transports the toy to his apartment in New York that he shares with his wife, Susy Hendrix, a recent accident victim who was recently blinded. There, the doll is lost.

Gloria, a young neglected street urchin, seeks refuge in Susy's company to fulfill her needs for a role model mom. The child is both impish and helpful, serving as a second strong female character bent on foiling the impure deeds of the trio of con men. As Susy must overcome her disability, Gloria must develop into a young lady with a purpose.

Roat is the mastermind and seasoned sleazebag who enlists strongmen Talman and Carlino to search for the doll in the Hendrix's place, now the resting place of a freshly murdered Lisa. Their mission is to find the contraband. Susy stumbles in on the duo who, due to her blindness, avoid detection.

But the henchmen also fail, thus a scheme is planned in which Roat dressed as an old man accosts Susy at her apartment, with an accusation of an affair between Lisa and Sam. Talman pretends to be Sam's long lost friend on a visit to the City. The play is a vehicle built around a woman who must use her senses and sense to foil simple-minded brutish intentions.

The entire production takes place on one set: a basement level Greenwich brownstone. Because the Castro Valley theatre is a small, intimate space seating around one hundred, the mise en scene works well. Designed to the period and reflecting a young couple of moderate means, the stage becomes the apartment we have all lived in once. It features a windowed, stairway front entrance that lends authenticity. Sounds of footsteps provide more than just cues for the action.

Audrey Hepburn, nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the 1967 film, must always be in mind when casting Susy Hendrix. And Gigi Benson as Susy will not disappoint a single audience member. She doesn't attempt to resume the role of the famous actressÐ she is her own kind of sprightful, feisty, and endearing; she owns this character. Not only is she immediately adorable and ever so easy to fall in love with, she also plays the part of a blind person, not an easy gig, to perfection.

Normally the character of Talman, who persuades and manipulates Susy, takes on the power position. In this production, Sergeant Carlino, played by Ivan Velazquez, steals the spotlight and transforms what is usually a supporting role into a lead of his own. With an air of a young Peter Falk, he nails the underground, fast taking, and deceptively charming New York City type dead on.

Young Emma Curtain, who plays the kid next door of questionable parenting, is delightful in her portrayal of the snide yet sweet Gloria. She provides a most interesting counter, challenge, and foil to Susy. In their antagonistic exchanges, and collusion against the criminals, the play's subtle nod to feminism and feminine empowerment arrives. This young actress has a definite career ahead of her.

If there is any room for development, it's in the characterizations of the heavies, Talman and Roat. Aptly played by Steve Wilner and Matthew Beal respectively, the audience desires to detest them more; they should be sleazy and despicable.

Intriguing. Fast-paced. Humorous. Endearing. This production, directed by Michael Sally, is true to the tradition and transports the audience to a retro-esque era in which the drama of crime, unlike today, doesn't need gore and shock. This play's twists of fate, verbal gambol, and intrigue of an intellectual nature is right on. Wait Until Dark rouses certain delight in its creation of a heroine who after suffering tragedy and deception must re-create her psyche to transcend the shadowlands of being.

Wait Until Dark
Friday April 7 Ð Sunday April 30
8 p.m., Sunday matinees 2 p.m.

Chanticleers Theatre
3683 Quail Ave, Castro Valley
(510) 733-5483
Tickets: $25 general,
$20 seniors/students/military

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