By Hollyn Scott
“You’re going to make someone a wonderful mistress one day,” Susan says to Gloria, humorously expressing her gratitude and exemplifying the complex relationship dynamic between a blind woman and her juvenile upstairs neighbor in Wait Until Dark.
The small and intimate Town and Gown theatre in Athens, Georgia was the perfect venue for Director Cameron Logan to take on Fredrick Knott’s 1966 basement apartment-set thriller. Her decision to set the play in 1944 was supported through appropriate costumes consisting of suspenders and trench coats for the men and classic print dresses for the women. The language and gender roles were consistent with the era, demonstrated by the condescending use of the word “dame” and overarching view of the male characters that the women could easily be fooled. The beginning of the play saw a few minor but noticeable stutters in line delivery, but these were almost nonexistent and totally forgotten by the end of the show as the cast warmed up and got more comfortable. As the story progresses, the multifaceted attributes of both Susan, a blind woman played by actress Bekah Lee, and Gloria, a little girl living in the upstairs apartment played by actress Greer Jones, are made apparent by their execution of the dramatically suspenseful, but sometimes humorous script. The on-stage chemistry between Lee and Greer gave the play essential authenticity as these two unlikely candidates get caught up in a dangerous situation and join forces to uncover the true intensions of three convincing thieves, Roat (W. Steven Carroll), Carlino (Patrick Hooper) and Mike (Patrick Najjar).
Susan’s charming and self-aware personality is showcased by her self-deprecating sense of humor while her resilience and capability are revealed by her body language and facial expressions. In the scene where Mike is first introduced, Lee, revealing that she was blinded by a car accident, flawlessly delivers the playful line, “They were able to fix everything but the headlights,” exemplifying her light-hearted attitude toward her unfortunate blindness and giving her a degree of lovability. In two later scenes, one in which Carlino fiddles with the venetian blinds and the other when Susan notices Roat’s shoes are the same as his father’s (because they are the same person), Lee’s puzzled yet focused face and body movements during the scene make her appear as if she is picking up on something that no one else is, foreshadowing her revelation that these men are not who they say they are and showing that she can be both loveable and intelligent.
Like Susan, sixth grader Greer Jones’s portrayal of Gloria was layered with qualities, some likeable and some not. When we first meet Gloria her bratty attitude towards Susan is off-putting. She is constantly belittling Susan’s authority by telling her “Sam said” I can do this and “Sam said” I can do that (Sam is Susan’s husband), but we understand and sympathize with her later on in the scene when she reveals her mother “has someone with her” and that her father abuses her mother, indicating her troubled home life and exposing why she likes to spend time in the Hendrix’s apartment.
The two female characters team up in Act II when Susan must rely on Gloria’s seeing ability in two different instances. First, she needs Gloria’s help to figure out which light switches go to which rooms so she knows the switches to turn on and off later on when she is alone in the apartment with Roat (This is also where the play’s title, Wait Until Dark begins to make sense). Second, Susan asks a receptive Gloria to go upstairs, look out her window and call her if she sees anyone getting out of the truck parked outside the apartment, letting the phone ring twice as a signal. Both of these tasks set up Susan’s triumph over Roat in the play’s final scene.
Against the backdrop of a simple set including a kitchen with a 1940s-style ice box, living room with one red couch, an end table and a dial-up telephone and dining area with a small wooden table and two chairs, both the blind but determined Susan and young but useful Gloria work together to combat the deceptive thugs that will stop at nothing to retrieve the valuable doll that has been unintentionally placed within the Hendrix’s basement apartment. The relationship between the two actresses is unfolded through a brilliantly delivered mother-daughter-like dialogue in Act I that begins to transform into a much more urgent co-dependency as Act II progresses.
Seeing two female roles handle a sinister situation without any help from a male character was even more satisfying to watch because of the 1944 setting, a context of time that typically did not see involved or heroic characteristics attributed to women, let alone a blind one and a little girl. Not only was the play thematically sound, with the costumes and set imitating the 1940s era, but the dialogue execution by Lee and Greer sold their complexities as individual characters as well as their relationship’s role in fending off the villainous Roat, Carlino and Mike. Overall, Wait Until Dark scores 4.5 out of 5 candles, the .5 being knocked off for a few minor line delivery issues early on that were tightened up as the play progressed.