Shivers in the Shadows

Despite inane plot, 'Wait Until Dark' at ATC is a fun fright fest

Almost 50 years before Geico's latest commercial, which points out that people in scary movies make stupid decisions, Roger Ebert wrote about plots that depend upon one or more characters being idiots.

"They get trapped in a situation that they could easily get out of with common sense. But they don't, being idiots. If they did, they'd solve the problem and the movie would be over."

The late, great film critic was writing about "Wait Until Dark," a 1967 movie based on Frederick Knott's play of the same name. It's about a blind woman caught up in an elaborate con perpetrated by some bad guys in search of a doll.

The various thugs waltz in and out her front door because, I don't know, they didn't have bolt locks back then? The sightless heroine needs to quit worrying about the venetian blinds and the unevenly squeaky footwear and maybe secure the door.

For a play that celebrates the brainpower of a blind damsel in distress, "Wait Until Dark" is sometimes dumb as dirt. But damned if it isn't eminently enjoyable and further proof that believability isn't everything.

Arizona Theatre Company's "Wait Until Dark," which opened last Friday at the Temple of Music and Art, is pretty much irresistible. If you can ignore the gaping plot holes, which Jeffrey Hatcher's adaptation does nothing to fix, you'll have a crackling good time.

The acting—led by Brooke Parks as the endangered Susan and Craig Bockhorn, Ted Koch and Peter Rini as her unexpected guests—rarely rises above serviceable.

But ATC's production design is characteristically topnotch, especially Don Darnutzer's shadowy lights, Brian Jerome Peterson's perfect sound and Jonathan Snipes's moody original music.

Director David Ira Goldstein, the outgoing artistic director who has helmed more than 40 ATC productions, has delivered a tightly paced show that packs a couple of real jolts. The climactic blackout is a rare theatrical example of darkness done right.

Goldstein's most obvious misstep is casting the grown-up Lauren Schaffel as the bratty girl Gloria, who hangs out with her blind neighbor whenever her trampy mother is otherwise engaged, which is often.

Schaffel, a Juilliard grad who is 26 years old and doesn't look a day under 25, is spectacularly wrong in this role. She's playing a girl who still plays with dolls, for crying out loud.

Perhaps it makes sense that the opening night audience reacted to the curtain call as if they were at the Gaslight Theatre, booing the bad guys, cheering the damsel.

This is a melodrama, after all. And not a bad one at that.

Even so, there's no escape from the idiot plot. If there were chainsaws in Susan's apartment, she would hide behind them.

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