Boca Stage draws deeply from the well of suspense-laden theatrical performances for its opening production of the 2023-24 season, Frederick Knott’s menacing dark thriller, Wait Until Dark.
The play that saves the best spine tingles and most threatening interactions for the finale is being presented at the Delray Beach Playhouse, the new venue for the troupe that’s been staging shows at the Sol Theatre in Boca Raton for the past several years.
Boca Stage is presenting a revision of Knott’s original 1964 nail-biter that sets the drama’s timeline back to the “film noir” era of the mid-1940s – when gangsters and crooks had a freer run on street crime. It was an appropriate choice made by Boca Stage founder, executive producer and this show’s director, Keith Garsson.
“In 2013, playwright and author Jeffrey Hatcher updated the script by resetting the show to 1944, just at the end of World War II, while keeping its New York City locale,” Garsson said. “This newly updated script is now tighter, faster and no longer dated” compared to the mid-1960s production.
Set in a basement apartment in Greenwich Village, Wait Until Dark tells the story of Sam (Michael Coppola) and Susy Hendrix (Rachel Whittington), a young newly married couple who’ve been dealt a tough blow. She was struck blind from injuries in a car accident a year earlier, and Sam, who has set up his photo studio in their small flat, is trying to make a go of the business, but must travel by bus to assignments, presumably because of tight finances. So, he is often not home.
Rachel Whittington in the Boca Stage production of Wait Until Dark. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
While on an assignment, Sam accidentally runs afoul of an apparent theft when he encounters a woman at the Philadelphia train station who slips a doll into his carry bag that he brings back to his New York home. The doll, it seems, contains a stash of stolen jewels. Soon afterward, the woman who hid the doll is found dead – and Sam and Susy are drawn into the crosshairs of suspicion.
Susan, a capable woman despite her blindness, is targeted by a trio of hoods searching for the loot they feel was placed – or hidden – in their apartment. They have already cased the joint when the Hendrix were not home but found nothing. Now, they are determined to find the jewels – or else.
Wait Until Dark gathers together three ne’er-do-wells — two recently released prisoners and a strange man named “Roat” to concoct a nasty scheme to retrieve the doll by turning up the heat on Susy, who, they believe, knows where the toy is and just doesn’t want to tell.
Little by little, Susy realizes that something foul is afoot – and that she’s the intended mark of a foul and possibly deadly scheme. With tension running high, Susy enlists assistance from Gloria (Ellie Rose), the girl who lives upstairs and runs errands for her. Together, they create a plan to thwart the criminals if they try to take advantage of her.
Scene from the Boca Stage production of Wait Until Dark. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)
When Susy and Roat finally meet in the taut and dramatic climax, there are screams galore, grunts, twists, unseen turns and a nail-biting finale that’s worth the wait. To provide more details about the confrontation would certainly spoil the ending.
Garsson has pulled together an exceptional cast for his first show at Delray Beach Playhouse. Everyone puts their all – and then some – into making this drama work.
Whittington seems perfect in the role of Susy. The actress is particularly adept at displaying fright and instilling it in the audience. Yet she maintains sufficient composure to prove she can defend herself.
With his height and bulk, Shane Tanner plays Harry Roat as the threatening, heavy-handed thug leader who brandishes a nasty attitude as well as a switchblade. His confrontation with Susy is the set piece for this intense drama.
Rio Chavarro is very natural as Mike Talman, the smooth con man who gains Susy’s trust and even seems sympathetic to her situation. His partner, Carlino, an ex-con who pretends to be a police sergeant, is played with glowering verve by veteran local performer Troy Stanley.
Shane Tanner and Rachel Whittington in the Boca Stage production of Wait Until Dark. (Photo by Amy Pasquantonio)