Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark is a carefully timed psychological thriller. Four heels, one of whom is never seen, challenge a poor, defenseless blind woman for possession of a doll she doesn’t have and has never seen. To make matters worse, one of the bad guys is a psychopathic killer.
How does one take a play like this to community theater and make it entertaining? Ask Director Ilene Chalmers, who succeeds in the feat at Bowie Playhouse.
Chalmers takes the tried and true one-bedroom apartment set with a staircase that includes an unseen off-stage bedroom. The unseen adds tension throughout the play. Fred Nelson’s sounds — telephone rings, steps, knocks, and people entering the building from the outside — add zing. Bowie Playhouse staff handle the lighting, which is so important as the direction of the play slowly shifts from that of those who can see and one who cannot. The near darkness and darkness also build suspense in the audience.
You may be familiar with the story. A photographer returning from Montreal is given a doll by a mysterious woman at the airport. Being the person he is, the photographer accepts the doll and gives the mystery woman his address so she can pick it up later. That night, the mystery woman goes to the apartment for the doll, but it can’t be found.
The story revolves around Susy Hendrix (Gemma Davimes), a newlywed who was blinded less than two years ago in an auto accident. She and her husband, Sam (Joseph Downs), live in a one-bedroom flat in Greenwich Village in the fall of 1966. Sam is a Marine war veteran turned photographer. He is a workaholic with a darkroom at home and a studio within Susy’s walking distance.
Davimes uses Susy’s frustrations with her visual impairment to reveal her vulnerabilities. Her Susy is a resourceful, critical thinker. She takes Susy from naive to survivor and eventually turns darkness into an asset — the final 10 minutes are dark with a showdown between Susy and Harry Roat Jr. (Andrew Rappa).
While Davimes’ likability is important for the role of Susy, Roat is a truly despicable character, and Rappa is superb in the role. The suspense of the play is reliant on Roat’s macabre efforts and believable acting. In the end, Roat finally lets go of the villain’s sadistic tendencies to resolve the production.
The little girl upstairs, Gloria (Samantha Clark), is smitten with Sam, but is either jealous or hateful toward Susy. At one point Gloria has a temper tantrum and throws silverware, including a sharp knife, across the floor. When Susy threatens to tell Sam and ban the brat from the home, Gloria experiences a change of heart. She aids Susy through the rest of the play.
Clark, a fourth-grader, played her role with the skill of someone much more experienced.
Anthony Cosgrove, a high school student, does an excellent job of portraying the moral dilemma baddie Mike Talman faces between his actions and his thinking.
For all the strong points in Davimes’ performance, something stood out as odd. In Act I, her character moved tentatively around the set carefully with measured steps. The nasty little girl upstairs would come down to help the couple with chores, but she would move furniture around creating problems for Susy. But in Act II, Susy was running around the apartment.
Fight Choreographer Tom Plott had his work cut out for him on this production. He was tasked with designing and training an inexperienced cast in fight scenes, one of which pitted a blind person against a sighted one in total darkness. It didn’t work this time. The fight scenes lacked realism and were unbelievable.
If you enjoy using your mind, this play is for you. Just about everything comes together.
Running Time: Two hours 10 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
Wait Until Dark plays through October 30, 2022 — Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sunday matinees at 2 PM — presented by Bowie Community Theatre performing at The Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, Bowie, MD. Tickets (general admission, $22; seniors 62+ and students, $17) can be purchased online.
COVID Safety: Bowie Community Theatre requires that patrons be vaccinated at the time of entering the theater. Masks are optional but encouraged for all guests
Co-Producers: Alan and Penni Barnett; Director Ilene Chalmers; Assistant Director: Janet Constable Preston; Stage Manager: Lori Braun; Set Designer: David Chalmers; Sound Designer: Fred Nelson; Lighting Designer: Bowie Playhouse staff; Fight Choreographer: Tom Plott; Special Effects: David Chalmers. Players: Mike Talman, Anthony Cosgrove; Sgt. Carlino, Randy Lindsay; Harry Roat, Jr., Andrew Rappa, Susy Hendrix, Gemma Davimes; Sam Hendrix, Joseph Downs; Gloria, Samantha Clark; Police Officer 1, Daniel Monteith; Police Officer 2, Cathy Holmes.