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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Wait Until Dark

"You can be likable and still be a thief. . .actually, it's kind of a requirement."— Mike to Susan
Wait Until Dark Adam Stein and Alison Pill (Photo: Michael Lamont)
One can hope life is like a play in this respect: a few wonderful moments can redeem a whole lot of muddle and missed opportunities. Frederick Knott's thriller Wait Until Dark, for instance, has plot holes that even a blind person could spot from a mile off. But the play is saved by a terrific premise, an enthralling lead character, and a whopper of a climax.

The Geffen production has even more than that to recommend it. The luminous Alison Pill (TV's The Newsroom and In Treatment, Tony nominee for Lieutenant of Inishmore) draws our eyes to her every moment she's on stage as Susan, who's adjusting to two recent life-altering events. A car accident has taken away the young woman's sight. And she's just gotten married to Sam (Matt McTighe), a photographer whom she met while recuperating.

Pill makes everything easier to swallow, including the far-fetched plotting. Roat (Adam Stein), a nasty piece of business, will stop at nothing to find jewels Sam has unknowingly brought home in a doll. After a failed search of Sam and Susan's Greenwich Village apartment, Roat and his henchmen Carlino (Rod McLachlan) and Mike (Mather Zeckel), enact an over-elaborate ruse to suss out if Susan knows the doll's whereabouts.

The porcelain-featured Pill triumphs, just as Lee Remick, a Tony Award nominee for the original Broadway production, and Audrey Hepburn, Oscar-nominated for the film version, did before her. The role is actress and awards bait, requiring an irresistible blend of vulnerability, core strength, and technical skill, in portraying a physical challenge.

The rise of horror-film heroines in harder-edged films from the '70's and '80's, most starring the steely Jamie Lee Curtis, made Susan seem unfashionably quaint. As a result, Knott's once popular piece has been kept from the spotlight for most of the past few decades. A lambasted Broadway revival starring Marisa Tomei and, as her chief adversary, Quentin Tarantino (in his Broadway debut and potential swan song) solidified its reputation as a dated relic.

Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher has had the bright idea of adapting the play to make it even more of a throwback, relocating the '66 original to '44. The play might succeed as a thoroughly thrilling charmer instead of a stylish but flawed vehicle for a young actress, if only Hatcher had found a way to shore up some nonsensical plotting.

The character who really has the doll seems fairly obvious, but the bad guys don't even consider the possibility. Susan's newly acute sense of hearing leads her to suspect Carlino when he adjusts the blinds in her front window; she shares this information with Mike, who minutes later adjusts the blinds without taking great care to be as quiet as possible.

Director Matt Shakman bears some responsibility for the confusion of that moment, but his staging elsewhere is solid. And the design work of his team (Craig Siebels' set, E.B. Brooks' costumes, Elizabeth Harper's lights, Jonathan Snipes' music and sound) is all one could want.

Shakman's elicited wonderful work from Brighid Fleming as young upstairs neighbor Gloria, who goes through as much of a transition as Susan. After her very different performance earlier this season in The Nether, Fleming has quickly become an actor who makes a show worth seeing due only to her participation.

The men do not come off as well. Stein proves a superlative character actor, impressing when in disguise. But his Roat seems more peevish than cut-throat. Though his last-minute lunge is all one could hope for. McLachlan, so reliable in David Mamet's work, seems unduly dense. McTighe makes so little impression in his short stage time that there's little sense of emotional risk when Roat starts to convince Susan that Sam may be a killer or an adulterer. Zeckel's warm performance as Mike is one of the highlights of the first act, but gets more indistinct in the second.

The production would work better as one act, allowing the suspense to build uninterrupted as it goes along. Still, the Geffen, as it often does, has slotted the production perfectly. Just as the university setting made the previous showRapture Blister Burn perfect for the back-to-school season, Wait Until Dark is effective programming for Halloween and the end of daylight savings time.

The darker afternoons can cause malaise, but watching Alison Pill's star turn should prove an effective remedy. She lights up the stage.

Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott
Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Matt Shakman

Cast: Alison Pill, Adam Stein, Mather Zickel, Rod McLachlan, Matt McTighe, Brighid Fleming
Set designer: Craig Siebels
Costume designer: E.B. Brooks
Lighting designer: Elizabeth Harper
Music & sound designer: Jonathan Snipes
Production Stage Manager: James T. McDermott
Running time: Two hours including one intermission
Plays Tuesdays through Sundays until November 17 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood, 90024 (310) 208-5454
Reviewed by Jon Magaril
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