by DICK KEREKES
Theatre Jacksonville opened a three week revival of the classic thriller, Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark. This l966 play was made into an excellent movie with Audrey Hepburn that still shows up on cable from time to time. Even if you have seen the movie, it does not compare to live actors performing this captivating period piece.
The plot goes something like this. Professional photographer, Sam Hendrix (R.Scott McLeod Jr), has returned from a business trip to Montreal with a doll given to him by a stranger to deliver to young girl in a New York hospital. Hendrix misplaces the doll which contains $50,000 of drugs hidden in it, and a trio of bad guys wants very badly to get it back.
The three thugs assume the doll is somewhere in Sam’s basement apartment in Greenwich Village, and come up with an intricate scheme to get it back. The fact that Sam’s wife Susy is blind works to their advantage and they wait until Sam is out on a job assignment to fool the bind woman.
The smoothest talker of the crooks, Mike Talman, pretends he is one of Sam’s old Army friends to gain the trust of Susy in order to let his two accomplices in to the apartment to search for the doll. Susy is deceived into believing the doll may be incriminating evidence against her husband in a murder case, so she, at first willingly, helps to look for the doll and becomes very trusting of Mike.
Before long the behavior of the trio, causes the intelligent Susy to think that something is not right, and Susy enlists the aid of upstairs neighbor, 12 year old Gloria, to confirm her suspicions. LaVilla Middle School of the Arts student, Caroline Wernskjold is very good as Susy’s eyes and ally in her first community theatre role. Depending on what performance you see, another LaVilla Student, Ayla Combs may be performing the Gloria role.
Well, that is as far as I am going to take you in the plot, in case you have never seen the play but I will tell you the dark plays an important part the final several minutes of the show and the suspense is very tense and frightening, but then it is suppose to be. I heard one patron say as she left the theatre, that she was going to sleep with the light on when she got home.
It has been a dozen or more years since Rick DeSpain directed Shadowbox in this very theatre. Since then he has concentrated on his teaching career and is a member of the La Villa Middle School of the Arts faculty. DeSpain very modestly listed few of his acting credits in the program, and I remember many memorable performances on local stages. The last one was at ABET in The Rainmaker 3 or 4 years ago.DeSpain has done an awesome job of direction and casting with Wait Until Dark. Scott Peeler is the brutal Carlino, the least intelligent of the three bad guys. This is Peeler’s debut as an actor anywhere and he performed like a veteran and was very believable in every way.
Jason Hall is also making his Jacksonville debut, and nails the role of the psychopathic killer, Harry Roat Jr. to a “T”. He makes Roat a chilling and disturbing character which I am sure is quite a contrast from his real occupation as Chairman of the Creative Writing Department, at La Villa.
Zdravoko Rozic , is excellent as Mike Talman. “Z” as he is known to his friends (Yes, that first name is a challenge), is graduating from UNF in April and will be leaving for a try at an acting career in the Big Apple. In the four years he has been in Jacksonville, Rozic has developed into a first rate actor, honing his skills on community theatre stages, at FCCJ (He was a great Nazi in Good) and UNF.
Tina Moroni plays the role of blind Susy exceptionally well. She credits the ILAB (Independent Living for Adult Blind) for their assistance in preparing her for the role. Theatre Jacksonville regulars may remember her as the romantic lead in Over the River and Into the Wood several seasons back. This was her only other role on stage in Jacksonville as she has been busy in TV and film. Tina and her husband are moving to Minneapolis after this show closes, so take the opportunity see this attractive and fine actress give a terrific performance in a very demanding role.
Rounding out the cast are the two policemen in cameo roles played by Brooks Studier and Tyler Ross.
Set Designer Kelly Wagoner has created a very convincing basement apartment, complete with a kitchen, a photographer’s dark room, washing machine and the all important staircase. Technical Director/ Lighting designer Jeffery Wagoner’s unique lighting design is outstanding, especially in the finale where light and dark are combined with the action on the stage to scare the heck out of you.
Knott’s thriller has stood the test of time, but times have changed and thanks to TV and shows like CSI, Law & Order, etc audiences are much savvier about criminals and how they work. Which brings me to a suggestion. I noticed that Roat and Carlino both wore a glove and carried a hanky when touching things. Mike Tallman, also an ex-con and not one of the pillars of society, I observed touched EVERYTHING , and I do mean everything with his bare hands and probably left enough finger prints all over that apartment to start a branch of the FBI fingerprint Department in Greenwich Village. I have seen this before and I believe Talman always wore gloves. It also gives Talman a lot of little business he can do in dealing with Susy.
Don’t miss this thriller, on stage at the Harold K. Smith Playhouse, 2032 San Marco through March 28. Call 396-4425 for reservations.
Wait Until Dark
by DICK KEREKES