With just enough humor to take the edge off, Citadel Theatre’s “Wait Until Dark” is a taut, smartly acted thriller just in time for spooky season.
First a Broadway play, then a 1967 Audrey Hepburn movie and now in revival on the stage, “Wait” tells the story of a newly blinded woman, Susy (Ellen Cribbs), who becomes the target of three con-men thieves searching for a doll filled with heroin that her husband unwittingly muled from Canada.
Cribbs is convincing throughout Susy’s arc from a debilitated, dependent and easily duped housewife into a cagey calculated opponent who (sorry if this is a spoiler for you) outmaneuvers and eventually defeats her attackers.
She is ably assisted by the young daughter of her upstairs neighbors, Gloria (role shared by Phoebe Ann Paslaski and Blair Bund), who makes her own transition from gloriously bratty nuisance to invaluable colleague. Watching Bund brought to mind the old adage about never performing with children or animals. The Deer Path Middle Schooler was almost mesmerizingly scene-stealing whenever she turned up onstage in her sparkly-framed glasses.
The organizational leader of the thugs, Roat (Gerald Nevin) is almost too coolly sinister to bring off the convolutions of the trio’s plot to confuse and corner Susy and get her to give up the doll. An early scene where he forces Carlino (Michael Jay Bullaro) and Mike (Scott Phelps) into his web seems a bit farfetched, partly due the dialogue, but also because the characters created by Phelps and Bullaro seemed too strong to be so quietly cowed.
Phelps, the Citadel’s artistic director, rose ably to what is perhaps the largest acting challenge in the play: portraying a con-man ex-con with a heart. When Susy finally catches up with the audience, who has his angle known from the start, his multi-dimensional characterization makes it easy to share in her disappointment.
The dead-accurate late ‘1960s set (where can I get an aquamarine refrigerator?) and a sensitive and trickily timed lighting design play important supporting roles in this entertaining thriller. With much of Act II performed in darkness or near-darkness, the audience is invited to inhabit the frightening world of Susy, whose eyesight was lost just one year prior.
It would be hard to overstate how impressive Cribbs’ performance was, spanning the possible range of emotions from love, to petulance, frustration, canniness and lots and lots of shrieking fear. Through it all, she managed to externalize the “blind” facet of her character, even as her growing self-assuredness diminishes her handicap’s importance.
Director Wayne Mell’s expert, energized blocking helped to pace and explicate diaglogue and plot points that sometimes still felt rushed or swallowed due to the complicated (I would go as far as convoluted) plan hatched and executed by the bad guys.
There are a few other motivational and logistical head-scratchers written into the script that I can’t divulge without giving too much away. But when the “curtain” comes down, “Wait” is on balance a satisfying serving of theatre with several standout moments.
Wait Until Dark runs Thursdays through Sunday until Oct. 30, with a matinee Oct. 5. To buy tickets or for more information, contact the Citadel box office.