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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Arizona Theatre Company leaves audience in ‘dark’ with new play


    Courtesy of Arizona Theater Company / Ken Huth

    Ted Koch and Brooke Parks in Arizona Theatre Company’s ʺWait Until Dark.ʺ Based on Frederick Knott’s 1966 play, the production team adapts the story to fit into the period of 1940s America.

    Never before has a play about a missing doll been so suspenseful.

    Arizona Theatre Company gets playful in its latest production of “Wait Until Dark,” as it keeps audience members in limbo while they watch a group of con artists terrorize a blind woman who is unknowingly in possession of a doll stuffed with prized diamonds.

    Adapted from the 1966 play by Frederick Knott, “Wait Until Dark” may be more familiar to moviegoers of the 1967 film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn in one of her last big roles. ATC stays relatively true to Knott’s original story, the biggest change being the switch of time periods from the late 1960s to World War II.

    The intention of this time reversal is to play up some of the film noir elements embedded in Knott’s text, but setting the story two decades earlier seems rather unnecessary, since none of the play’s action ever ventures outside a cramped New York City apartment.    

    Of course, there are plenty of added wartime references enjoyable for any history buffs in the audience, but “Wait Until Dark” focuses more on the action and plot than about given circumstances; the 1940s motif quickly becomes just a pretty prop to hang on the wall.

    Following the trifles of a recently-blinded woman named Susan, the play claustrophobically makes her a prisoner in her own home as suspicious characters filter in and out in an elaborate scheme to uncover the location of the missing doll.

    For the audience, the production team sneakily simulates Susan’s bewildering terror with abrupt blackouts, intense sound cues and quick-fire staging. The frequent lighting manipulation creates a series of fascinating stage pictures to keep the rhythm of this talky, one-room drama from ever getting too static. At times, the flick of a small match is all that illuminates the pitch-black stage.

    In her portrayal of Susan, Brooke Parks embraces her role by characterizing Susan with plenty of feisty brashness. With traits reminiscent of 1940s screen starlets such as Barbara Stanwyck and Katharine Hepburn, Parks embodies an independent woman with the wits to outsmart her antagonists. Displaying the right amount of vulnerability at key moments in the play, Parks quietly steals the show.

    Ted Koch devilishly entertains the crowd as Roat, the self-imposed ringleader of the crooks. Koch adopts multiple accents and disguises throughout the play, and though he habitually resorts to sudden outbursts revealing his homicidal nature, it’s his calmer actions that really creep under your skin.

    In the play’s climatic showdown, Roat snatches Susan’s walking cane and tauntingly taps it against the scenery, mimicking the tension in their cat-and-mouse dynamic. Most of the play’s suspense stems from small gestures such as these. The director stages the actors in blocking patterns that allow the audience to see a character hiding weapons behind their backs, so the viewer feels more invested knowing information other characters don’t know. It’s one of the many ways the production tries to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

    Taking some notes out of Alfred Hitchcock’s book on storytelling, “Wait Until Dark” packs plenty of melodrama in between its moments of terror. The female protagonist uncovers a suppressed strength within herself only brought out through a close encounter with danger. It is a familiar trope found in classic films such as “Rebecca,” “The Birds” and “Dial M for Murder.” Like Hitchcock, this play is not a fan of exploiting damsels in distress.

    Susan holds her own in a male-dominated environment, and it is her journey that makes this production a crowd-pleaser.

    Performances will run at Arizona Theatre Company until Nov. 8, and discounted tickets are available to college students. Don’t be left in the dark this Halloween season with this opportunity to experience some live, spine-tingling suspense.


    Follow Kevin C. Reagan on Twitter.

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