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Alison Pill Of 'The Newsroom' Brightens Up Revival of 'Wait Until Dark'
For whatever reason, suspense is not something theatre does very well. Perhaps it's the physical limitations of the stage space, but few plays attempt to be thrillers, and even fewer succeed at it. One of the notable exceptions to this truism is Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark, a Broadway hit that became an even more famous film. Knott's plot is a well-oiled tension machine, and the revival at the Geffen Playhouse (in a new adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher) demonstrates that the machine still functions proficiently. Alison Pill is marvelous in the lead role, but unfortunately there are a couple of problems in this generally strong production that keeps it from firing on all cylinders.When Susan's (Pill) husband leaves for the day on a short business trip, everything seems fine. Although Susan is blind, she's made a point of being self-reliant, and the only thing that bothers her is her young neighbor Gloria (Brighid Fleming) occasionally playing tricks on her. She's surprised when a detective called Carlino (Rod McLachlan) shows up at her door asking questions about a recent murder, and later when Mike (Mather Zickel) arrives, saying he's an old friend of her husband's. Things get stranger when an angry old man blusters through her place and leaves, shortly followed by his apologetic son, Roat (Adam Stein). Susan begins to realize that things aren't as they seem and that she's in danger, but she's more resilient than her foes realize.
Pill is top-notch as Susan. She convinces the audience of her character's blindness in the details she portrays, such as the way her feet always tap at the edge of the lower living room area before stepping up into the kitchen. She's an angrier Susan than Audrey Hepburn's in the film, and thus less of a victim, but she's still vulnerable and completely sympathetic. Fleming is terrific as the alternately bratty and loyal girl next door Gloria, while McLachlan is appropriately dour as the constantly glowering Carlino. Zickel is well cast as the appealing and helpful Mike, but Stein seems ill chosen as Roat. Stein simply isn't scary enough in the part, delivering more wry humor than menace, which dilutes the tension measurably.
Matt Shakman's direction of the show is professional, but he undersells the surprises, particularly a sudden death in Act Two where any noise at all would have been an improvement over the unthrilling silence. Hatcher's adaptation unnecessarily changes the time period from the late 1960s to 1944, but he seems to have updated some the original play's more paternalistic dialogue, which is good. Craig Siebels' basement apartment set is the best set I've seen all year, handsome and wonderfully detailed, to the extent that the underside of stairs on the floor above is part of the apartment ceiling. Overall, Wait Until Dark is a successful production, mainly worth seeing for Pill's outstanding lead performance.
"Wait Until Dark" runs at the Geffen Playhouse through Nov. 17. Tickets are available online.