top of page

10/28/2023        WAIT UNTIL DARK           Georgia Ensemble Theatre


Pgm Wait.jpg

Is there anything scarier than helplessness?  Some would argue darkness.   Or sudden threats leaping from shadowed doorways.  Or trusted new friends exposed as lying villains.


Frederick Knott’s 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark has them all.  In their new Marietta digs (the Jennie T. Anderson Theatre), Georgia Ensemble Theatre is staging a newly rewritten adaptation (by Jeffrey Hatcher) that delivers all the original frights and suspense and chills, but throws in a dash of 1970’s ethos, a pared-down length that trims some of the original set-up and exposition, and even creates a stunning surprise to take us into intermission.  (Well, stunning if you’ve never seen the original, or the Audrey Hepburn movie version, or have simply forgotten the details of the plot.   And judging from the gasps from the criminally small matinee audience, many fall into this group.)


It's the early 1970’s, Viet Nam is still on everyone’s consciousness, drugs are the go-to indulgence of choice, and Greenwich Village is the place to be if you’re in the market for artsy wedding photos or some elaborate grift and crime.


We are in the basement apartment of Sam and Susan Hendrix.  He is a photographer for hire, and, in an ironic twist of fate, she is a newly blind woman with ambitions to becoming the “World’s Champion Blind Person.”  But the Hendrix’s are out, and into their apartment come two sinister men.  They are in search of a doll, filled with {Insert a McGuffin Here} that through a tangled web of mistaken encounters and wry fate, fell into Sam Hendrix’s possession.  The men want it and are hatching a plan to get it.

I will leave the details for you to discover.  Suffice it to say, it is one of those con games where we are left as much in the dark as Susan, and the less you know going in, the more effective each new revelation becomes.  It all proceeds with a nail-biting ferocity and (you know this will happen) climaxes in a mostly dark stage with more than one dead body, more than one deadly blade, a gasoline-soaked floor, a box of matches, and two evenly matched characters who trade advantage with nerve-jangling frequency.


It has been many years since I have seen this on stage, and even longer since I’ve seen the movie.  Coincidentally, TCM broadcast it on Sunday, and I was able to watch it again after seeing this production, so both stage and screen versions are very fresh in my mind.  To be perfectly honest, as gripping and startling as the movie is (and OMG weren’t Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin absolutely perfect!), I found this stage version more engaging, more tense, more thrilling.  There’s something about seeing a dark stage (some dim blue ghost lights helping us follow what’s happening) that gets under the skin even more than the same scene done on a blank television screen.


Michelle Pokopac is absolutely brilliant as Susan.  She has a feistiness that is never quelled by her blindness (for her it is NEVER a “handicap”), an intelligence that seems to be two steps ahead of the intruders (until it’s not), and totally convinces us she is unable to see.   As her antagonist Roat, Caleb Clark simply oozes menace, even madness, as he ruthlessly terrorizes Susan and (occasionally) his “partners.”  Sully Brown is very convincing as a friendly visitor (an ex-army buddy of Sam’s who cuts a dashing figure in his “dress” uniform), Michael Joshua Williams is dimly intimidating as ex-policeman Carlino, Gregory Hunter makes the most of his brief appearances as Sam, and (adult) Aminah Vuyelwa Golden is beautifully convincing as aggravating upstairs neighbor (teenage) Gloria.


Alexander Whittenburg has designed and built an exquisitely detailed apartment set ( * ) – all plot-related devices and props in full view (as it were).  I do have to kvetch that the angle of the set makes some serious sight-line issues for folks on House Left – the main entrance at the top of the stairs is completely hidden from the Left aisle seats.  But that is a small percentage of people who will only hear a few critical moments.  It may even help them empathize more with Susan as a result.


Lighting Designer Rachael N. Blackwell has done a terrific job of walking that razor’s edge between moody darkness and can’t-see-what’s-happening murkiness.  We’re often as much in the dark as Susan and Roat during the climactic scene, but quick bursts of light (from matches, from the refrigerator, from the street) ensure we can sense – or imagine – what is actually happening on stage.


Frederick Knott has a reputation for filling his plays with wordy exposition, with clever repartee, and with characters acting out of the darkest corners of human evil .  His Dial M for Murder has been produced a couple times over the past decade with mixed results.  But here, Jeffrey Hatcher has tweaked and edited the script giving it a drive and a focus that was only brought out in the original in the best of productions.   Here, directors Candy McLellan and Jeremiah Davison have piloted their ace cast as if it were part of a NASCAR event, leaving us no time at all to catch our breath, even as we’re skidding perilously through turns of plot.


In the end, we are left with a thrilling battle of wills between two characters, two actors in peak form, knowing only the stronger will be standing at the end. 


I hope as many of you as possible see Wait Until Dark and love it as much as I did.


    --  Brad Rudy  (    #GETWaitUntilDark)


( * ) These kudos need to be shared with Scenic Artist Stefnie Cerny and Props Designer Tierney Breedlove.  And, for the record, Fight Choreographer Montgomery Davis did a terrific job of making that last scene frighteningly realistic (and keeping the actors safe while doing so).

bottom of page