Picture this: It’s dark, so dark, in fact, that you can’t make out the silhouette of your furniture or find your way to the light switch. You know someone—a stranger, perhaps—is in your house. But you can’t see him, and he refuses to make himself known. Your blood is pumping. Your face is flush. Your pulse is racing. Your palms are sweaty. Your other senses are heightened. Is he walking toward you? Is he dragging his hand along the bannister? Suddenly, his breath is on your neck and one thought pops into your head: It’s either kill, or be killed.
This animalistic fear propels the classic thriller Wait Until Dark, onstage at the Lake Worth Playhouse through March 17. Written and set in the mid-1960s, the play takes place in a time before cell phones—when everyone couldn’t be easily reached with a quick text. This fact is crucial to the plot, which involves a photographer, Sam, leaving his wife, a young blind woman named Susy, alone in their Lower East Side apartment for the day.
Recently, a mysterious stranger at the Montreal airport had asked Sam to bring a doll to a sick girl in New York. Sam acquiesced but then misplaced it. This doll, as it turns out, is not just any doll, and when a trio of criminals comes looking for it, they devise a plan to con Susy into handing it over to them. They’re set to strike on the day in question, having established alter egos and a rather involved hoax, but there’s one thing they didn’t count on: Susy’s incredible will to live.
At the heart of this production is actress Charlotte Otremba as Susy. Though there’s quite a bit of play to be had before she enters the action, she immediately commands the stage with a strong, demure elegance. Otremba’s biggest obstacle comes in Susy’s defining quality—her blindness. Susy lost her sight in recent years following a car accident, which frees Otremba up to react to certain sounds and dialogue as someone with sight might. That being said, she completely commits to being blind, while never once making it feel like a gimmick. Susy actually uses her blindness as an asset in her final plot to foil the thieves, and Otremba beautifully unpacks the character’s evolution from an unwitting pawn to a capable chess master.
Surrounding Susy is a supporting cast of degenerates, all of whom are completely delightful. As “criminal mastermind” Harry Roat (“junior and senior”), Michael Conner is a slinky villain with a certain Cruella de Vil je ne sais quoi. He’s evil, through and through, a trait that becomes all too apparent in his final tiff with Susy.
Patrick Prince and Russell Kerr portray his accomplices. Operating under the assumed identity of Sam’s old buddy Mike Talman, Kerr is surprisingly kind and gentle. His goal is to befriend Susy, and Kerr does so with ease, establishing a natural chemistry with Otremba that impacts both characters’ end-goal motivations.
As faux-cop Sargent Carlino, Prince behaves like a second-string gangster from The Sopranos. He needs to be bad—he has quite a few debts to pay back—but something about him is just so bad at being bad. Prince plays up the character’s dim-wittedness while managing to appear imposing. The fact that he can gleefully snack on cold cuts and still come across as a coldhearted thug is a feat in and of itself.
Susy also gets an assist from her upstairs neighbor, the young Gloria, played by Hannah Wagner. Decked out in glasses and pigtails, Wagner looks the part to a T—and she has the acting chops to back it up. And although he has but a few lines, Jefferson J. Dor strikes a comforting-meets-confident note as Susy’s husband, Sam.
Wait Until Dark does not deliver a carefree, easygoing evening of theater. On the contrary, it’s packed with distressing turns and so many twists you’ll feel as if you’re lost in a labyrinth. That’s good. Accept that uncertainty and know that you’re in the hands of capable performers who will safely guide you through the dark.