Frederick Knott’s “Wait Until Dark” begins with two apparent burglars flash lighting their way through a dark Greenwich Village basement apartment. For Riverwalk Theatre’s production of this 50-year-old play, first-time Riverwalk director Rita Deibler cast Josh Martin and Michael Phelps as the criminals. Therein lies the first challenge of the play.
Martin and Phelps play Mike Talman and Sergeant Carlino, respectively. The duo are supposed to be recently out of prison, down on their luck, slick-minded sociopaths. But instead, they come across as bland, hopelessly Midwestern almost-nice guys.
When the third leg of this criminal triumvirate arrives, however, some actual tension begins to build. Harry Roat (Spencer Perrenoud) is the apparent mastermind behind recovering a doll full of heroin that got sidetracked on a trip from Canada through customs. He believes the doll is in the apartment.
Perrenoud essentially plays three roles, as Harry also creates fictional versions of his father and son as the con game unfolds. At first, his take on the psychopathic Harry comes across as more Meth addict than full-tilt nutzoid. But later in the play, he demonstrates considerable vile and evil intent. The effect is chilling.
At the heart of this play is the charmingly warm, vulnerable Susy Hendrix (Cassie Little), in whose apartment the play takes place. Little has her work cut out for her, reprising a role made famous by Lee Remick on Broadway and by none other than Audrey Hepburn on film.
Suzy, recently made blind from an accident, is determined to present herself as completely confident and able to take care of herself. Little brings a lot to this role and portrays blindness with ease. As the play devolves into a complicated plot to recover the doll, she shows resilience and grit.
Suzy’s husband, Sam (Adam Bright), is a tough ex-Marine, but he loves her enough not to make her dependent on him. Bright’s role is significantly smaller, yet he asserts a seriously brusque military authenticity.
Roshawndra Thomas, as the pesky upstairs neighbor Gloria, lights up the stage. Her scenes with Little are crisp and clearly articulated.
Bob Nees designed the replica Greenwich Village apartment. It works well, despite horrendous over-lighting provided by Nick Eaton. The play is about the terrifying aspects of darkness. On occasions when the lights are turned on, the set looks looks stark and white, too bright for any basement apartment.
There are moments, especially in the earliest scenes of the play, where the action moves along too slowly. Overall, the play could use a lot more sizzle.
The final scene, however, with Harry dropping lit matches onto a darkened floor splashed with gasoline, competes well with the film version. There is a palpable physiological tension for the audience to work off at the play’s end.
“Wait Until Dark”
Riverwalk Theatre 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7; 8 p.m. Friday, April 8 and Saturday, April 9; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 10 Thursday: $10/$8 seniors, students and military; Friday-Sunday: $12/$10 seniors, students and military Riverwalk Theatre 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre.com