Susan seems to be adjusting well to losing her eyesight. Her photographer husband, Sam, lovingly encourages her to be more independent. Gloria, the girl who lives upstairs, helps and challenges her.
Things are just fine … until three strangers stumble into her basement apartment and Susan must fight for her life.
Penobscot Theatre Company’s “Wait Until Dark” is a good, old-fashioned thriller, well-paced with fine performances and some outstanding technical work. It does not put the audience on the edge of its seat the way last season’s “Misery” did. Instead, it slowly and carefully builds to a satisfying, nail-biting climax.
Most theatergoers are more familiar with the 1967 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn than with the play that debuted the previous year on Broadway. Several years ago, Jeffrey Hatcher adapted Frederick Knott’s original script that was set in 1960s Greenwich Village. Hatcher left the setting as New York City but moved the story backward in time to 1944 to “stoke the film noir aspect” of the story, Hatcher told a Minnesota newspaper last month.
Director Tricia A. Hobbs lets the story unfold slowly and carefully. The major plot points are revealed in the first scene, but the rest of the play lets the audience experience the action from Susan’s point of view.
Action scenes on stage are challenging. They have to appear real but must be safe for the actors. Hobbs and fight director Angela Bonacasa choreograph the violent climax beautifully. Theatergoers were awed by how real and threatening the fights looked.
Technically, “Wait Until Dark” a demanding show. The lights in the apartment go off and on often, but the audience must be able to see the actors on stage. Because of the play’s film noir feel, the use of shadows is important in building the suspense.
Lighting designer Scout Hough accomplishes all that and more. She illuminates Hobbs’ set and the actors in ways that not only inform the plot but the characters as well.
The six actors in the play are equally fine. Liz Mills is convincing as the blind woman unsure of her ability to fend for herself in the dark until she has to. She allows the audience to experience Susan’s building unease with the men confronting her. Mills lets theatergoers’ feel the character’s terror as Susan slowly comes to realize the danger she’s in.
Brad LaBree, best known for his comedic roles, seems to enjoy playing the psychopath Roat, the criminal mastermind behind the mystery. The actor reaches a bit too hard for laughs in the opening scene, but he is genuinely menacing and terrifying in the final confrontation.
Michael Marotta gives a layered and interesting performance as Mike. He is the most mysterious character in the play. Marotta peels back the plot twists as if taking the skin off an onion — carefully and precisely. The actor wears Mike’s ambiguity about the situation he’s in very well.
Ben Layman as Roat’s right-hand man, Carlino, and John Hedges as supportive husband Sam give good performances in supporting roles. It is Gwyneth Ravenscraft as Gloria who nearly steals the show from the grown-up actors. Ravenscraft, who did a delightful turn last year as Ramona Quimby, knows how to build a character from the inside out. Her Gloria is at times pouty, petulant, perturbing and remarkably self-assured. PTC needs to feature her more often.
Suspenseful shows often come with a warning, so here is one for “Wait Until Dark.”
Some people find tense or suspenseful situations amusing, or they giggle to break the tension. Gigglers at the Sunday matinee almost spoiled the climax for theatergoers who embraced the tension the cast and crew worked so hard to build on the stage. People who find confrontations between a blind woman and a psychopath funny, should stay home. But theatergoers who relish a bump in the night or a fright in dark will embrace and enjoy every tense moment of “Wait Until Dark.”
“Wait Until Dark” will performed through Nov. 4 at the Bangor Opera House, 131 Main St., Bangor. For information, call 207-942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.