By Oline H. Cogdill
Boca Stage smoothly navigates the psychological thriller’s nuances in its suspenseful production of Wait Until Dark that launches its 2023-2024 season and marks its debut at its new home in the Delray Beach Playhouse.
Director Keith Garsson has assembled a solid cast, each of whom mines the tension that constantly bubbles up in Wait Until Dark. Garsson deftly keeps the crime drama’s action briskly moving as his cast makes the plot believable.
Wait Until Dark revolves around Susan Hendrix who is learning to maneuver New York City—and her life—after being blinded in a car accident. Her efforts, and challenges, are supported by her loving husband, Sam, a photographer. Alone because Sam has been called to a bogus assignment, Susan is besieged by criminals looking for a doll used to smuggle diamonds that was snuck into Sam’s briefcase. How Susan—blind, scared and with only her wits—fends off these hardened criminals is the crux of Wait Until Dark. The first act is a slow burn that gives way to heightened tension in the second act.
Rachel Whittington illustrates how Susan finds an inner strength while also discovering that her blindness heightens her other senses. Rachel’s Susan is at first gullible and a people pleaser but soon learns that she has more skills and resolve than she thought.
Rio Chavarro portrays a conflicted Mike who unexpectedly drops in to visit Sam, weaving an elaborate tale about how Sam saved his life while they served in the Marines in Italy during the war. Chavarro, last seen in Boca Stage’s Time Alone, shows a Mike who is a glib storyteller yet who also, against his nature, finds a streak of morality as he grows to genuinely like Susan.
The always reliable Troy Stanley is scarily commanding as Carlino who has dubious police credential.
Kudos to 13-year-old Ellie Rose who brings depth to Gloria, the upstairs neighbor who Sam pays to do minor errands and shopping for Susan. The young actress shows a pre-teen who is resentful of Susan and Sam’s happy relationship as she deals daily with an emotionally abusive mother who has a string of boyfriends. The Parkland resident is fresh off playing the title role in the musical Annie in the 2022-2023 Broadway National Tour.
Wait Until Dark marks the most welcomed return to the stage of Shane Tanner, who easily rachets up the tension. His Roat—the most menacing of the criminals—is a chameleon as Tanner takes on several different personalities, each deliciously nasty. Good to have you back, Shane.
Many may be familiar with the 1967 movie Wait Until Dark that was released a year after the thriller made its Broadway debut. The film starred Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
The original Wait Until Dark play, written by Frederick Knott who wrote the thriller Dial M for Murder, was set in the late 1960s, as was the movie. The play received a couple of revivals, including one in 1998 starring Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino. It didn’t go well, lasting only 97 performances.
Wait Until Dark was retooled in 2013 by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who moved the setting back to 1944, the wanning time of WWII. New York City was on the rise in 1944 while the late 1960s was a time of decline. But the time change barely affects the plot. Both eras relied on landline phones and phone booths (remember those!). Sam’s military service could be applied to any war.
Boca Stage’s artistic team make the most of the 1944 era. Alberto Arroyo’s costumes are spot on, especially Susan’s skirt length and sweater top, down to her shoes and nylon stockings. David Hart’s sound design captures the Manhattan cityscape and rain. Larry Oberman’s lighting design sets the mood, especially those times when the stage is plunged into darkness, referencing Susan’s vision. Cindi Blank Taylor designed a lovely compact Greenwich Village basement apartment, a tidy space with vintage appliances and a couple of well-used stairs.
Wait Until Dark is Boca Stage’s inaugural production in its new space at the beautiful Delray Beach Playhouse, whose beginnings date back to 1947. Boca Stage productions will be in the playhouse’s Cabaret Theatre, which means the audience will sit at small tables instead of regular theater seats. Boca Stage is now able to seat 140 patrons, as opposed to its limit of 75 people at its former home at the Sol Theatre in Boca Raton.
At the same time, the playhouse allows Boca Stage to continue its intimate feel. The audience seemed to appreciate the move to the playhouse as Boca Stage was at near capacity on Wait Until Dark’s opening night.
Wait Until Dark gives Boca Stage a good start at its new home.
Boca Stage’s production of Wait Until Dark will run through Nov. 5 at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th Street, Delray Beach. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Running time 1 hour, 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $39 to $69. For tickets, visit www.delraybeachplayhouse.com or call 561-272-1281.