Don’t Wait. Rush to See Wait Until Dark

by Dr. Tiffany Knight Raymond, PhD

The second production in Little Lake Theatre Company’s 76th season is Wait Until Dark – the 2013 Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of Frederick Knott’s 1966 play. Knott’s original play was also adapted as a 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

This suspenseful thriller traces a coordinated home invasion against a blind woman named Susan Hendrix (Kerry McGrath). The criminals seek to regain a drug-filled doll that, unbeknownst to him, was slipped into her husband Sam’s briefcase for safe transit. Much like her cinematic predecessor, McGrath also serves up an award-worthy performance under the capable, guiding hand of director Sunny Disney Fitchett. Fitchett is a local legend, particularly in the hallowed barn of Little Lake where she served as artistic director for 23 years.

McGrath is utterly convincing as a blind woman, and Fitchett provides flawless direction. When descending the couple of stairs into her garden-level apartment, McGrath unfailingly reaches out, anxiously grasping for physical contact with the railing. As Susan, she never makes direct eye contact, looking towards others as they speak, but never at them. Reading faces and eyes instinctually helps decode communication, so it’s a testimony to both Fitchett and McGrath that she never deviates to a direct gaze.

Any flaws belong to Hatcher’s adaptation. At one point, Susan opens a closet door, and a heavy item is temporarily hanging on the back of the door. Susan notes her “other senses work overtime” since she became blind 18 months prior, so it seems unlikely she wouldn’t haven’t noticed a substantive weight difference when swinging open the door.

Photo: Kerry McGrath by Hawk Photographic and Multimedia LLC.

Vivian McGregor plays Gloria, an upstairs neighbor girl and helper to Susan. The Hendrix apartment clearly provides refuge from what we discern is a troubled home life. Gloria comes and goes at will, and Susan and Gloria emulate a feisty mother/daughter relationship. McGregor captures the seesawing emotional valence of adolescence. Gloria yearns to be older, whining “I’m not a kid,” yet also stamps around and throws silverware on the floor, demonstrating she’s more child than adult. Costume designer Sarah Boice visually reinforces Gloria’s childhood status with a long plaid-printed dress underlaid with a white, Peter Pan collared shirt, solidly anchoring Gloria in the dim trappings of childhood.

Sound designer Laura Thurman opens the play with eerie, ethereal instrumentals and fierce violins that immediately conjure the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho and signify a world set wrong. This sound cue is actualized when two criminals sequentially break into the Hendrix apartment.

The first one, Carlino (Jim Kiley), immediately establishes himself as a sloppy criminal; he’s not even wearing gloves. His examination of the apartment blends the strategic (hiding a knife) with the base (helping himself to leftovers in the fridge). Costume designer Sarah Boice visually supports his disheveled lack of attention to detail as one hem of his button down shirt is perpetually untucked.

When Carlino calls out he’s a cop to the second entrant, Roat (Patrick Daniel) immediately calls his bluff because Carlino didn’t pull a gun. It’s a nuance that brings to mind the saying you can’t con a con man.

Roat’s more discerning nature is evidenced by his gun statement and glove wearing and establishes him as the de facto leader. He also lacks self-awareness as he unironically asserts, “I cannot operate in an atmosphere of mistrust” after Carlino fails to disclose the brass knuckles he’s carrying.

However, the two men collaborate and think they can con Susan, seeing her blindness as a weakness to exploit. With the recent rise in popularity of psychological thrillers, this revival of Wait Until Dark is timely. But just when we think we have it figured out, the ground shifts yet again, plunging us all into darkness.

Wait Until Dark runs through May 26, 2024 at Little Lake Theatre Company in Canonsburg, PA. Purchase tickets online at here.