by Terrance McArthur
“Hello darkness, my old friend…”
Is darkness a friend to a blind woman? In Wait Until Dark, the thriller Visalia Players production at the Visalia Ice House Theater, darkness can turn out to be an ally.
Susy (Christa Reiber), blinded in an accident, lives life with confidence in a basement apartment she knows and can navigate like a sighted person . . . unless someone moves something. Mike (James Sack) and Carlino (Keaton Hoskins), small-time, con-men criminals, are hired by the enigmatic Roat (Alex Quezada) to help him find a heroin-stuffed doll brought across the Canadian border—not knowing what lay hidden inside it—by Sam (Joseph Ham), Susy’s photographer husband, who gets called out on jobs that never happen (a way to get him out of the house for hours). The bad guys use deceptions—claiming to be an old Army buddy, a police detective, men accusing Sam of infidelity . . . and murder—to search the place for the doll that would incriminate Sam. Gloria (Stevie Mason), a young girl who lives upstairs, complicates matters. Susy is resourceful and smart, but will she be smart enough when the bad guys get rough?
Fred Knott’s 1966 play that starred Lee Remick (and the 1967 Audrey Hepburn film adaptation it spawned), has been causing gasps and screams for decades, and this production is chilling, unnerving, and delicious. Joseph Ham directs with sureness—after all, he has played Mike in Reedley and Selma—and he even “orchestrates” the show with a sound design that subtly reinforces the action like a soundtrack with fragments of music that delineate characters, such as using string instruments to accompany Susy.
Christa turns in a stellar performance, serene, concerned, terrified, and determined as the circumstances demand. She focuses on voices instead of faces, stumbles into things a sighted person can see. You don’t think of her as an actor pretending blindness. So much of the play weighs on her, and she carries it well. On the dark side of the cast, in the footsteps of Robert Duvall and Alan Arkin, Alex oozes a smarmy ease as a puppet master pulling the strings of those around him, coercing his co-conspirators, dark glasses hiding his eyes, glasses that mimic the stereotypical eyewear of a blind man (Is the character trying to mock the woman he wishes to fool?). You wouldn’t want to strike up an idle conversation with this man.
James is solid as a man torn by his desires and money he could make from the scheme, and the sympathy he feels for Susy, and the guilt caused by his lies, adds another layer of conflict. Keaton looks cuddly, but he comes across as crass and out for himself. Stevie plays Gloria as a selfish schoolgirl who comes alive playing spy for Susy. Kayla Vander Schuur and Mal Lockwood (who designed and built the 60s-era set) have brief appearances as real policemen. Joseph is a good guy as Sam, a simple task for a man who has played Buddy Holly and Sweeney Todd.
Because it is part of an important plot point, smoking is done onstage. There is intense action and some shock moments that can be unsettling, but this show is well worth the travel to Visalia. Wait Until Dark runs until February 18 at the Ice House Theater, 410 E. Race Ave., Visalia, so run to see this dark drama. For reservations, call 559-734-3900 or go to the Visalia Players website.
As a special treat for KRL readers, the Ice House Theater is offering a 2-for-1 ticket deal for Wait Until Dark. Use the code “Wait2for1” when purchasing tickets at visaliaicehouse.com.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.