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Columnist
Court's taut 'Wait Until Dark' absolutely chilling
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Columnist

Con man Mike (Aaron Todd Douglas) ingratiates himself to the unsuspecting Susy (Emjoy Gavino) in Court Theatre's revival of Frederick Knott's thriller, "Wait Until Dark."

 

Smooth as silk sociopath Harry Roat (John Hoogenakker) stalks the innocent Susy (Emjoy Gavino) in "Wait Until Dark," running through April 5 at Court Theatre.

 

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Published: 3/20/2009 12:01 AM

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"Wait Until Dark"

Location: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago

Times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays through April 5

Running time: About two hours, 20 minutes with intermission

Tickets: $32-$54

Parking: Free parking garage adjacent to theater

Box office: (773) 753-4472 or courttheatre.org

Rating: For teens and older

More than 40 years after it became a hit on Broadway and on the big screen, "Wait Until Dark" still manages to elicit chills - even among theatergoers who know what to expect when the lights go out.

Opening night of Court Theatre's revival no doubt included theatergoers familiar with the thriller by Frederick Knott ("Dial M for Murder"), about a plucky blind woman who prevails over the dark forces that threaten her. And yet director Ron OJ Parson's taut and tidy production made them flinch. Not just flinch, it made them recoil.

The (unnecessarily) convoluted con that propels the plot; the convenient transformation of its protagonist from guileless gamine to shrewd survivor and the "Friday the 13th" twist make 1965's "Wait Until Dark" a less-than-perfect play. But it's a fun ride and a testament to female empowerment and ingenuity.

For the most part, the play's strength rests with the lively little cat-and-mouse game around which it centers, and with the play's unexpected and subtly expressed humor, much of which comes courtesy of Glen Ellyn's own Molly Hernandez.

The action unfolds in 1966, in the tiny Greenwich Village garden apartment shared by photographer Sam Hendrix (Terrance Watts) and his wife Susy (played with airy effervescence by Emjoy Gavino), a charmer who lost her sight in an accident some 18 months earlier.

While on assignment in Canada, Sam agrees to do a favor for a stranger and unwittingly brings a doll filled with heroin across the border into New York. The doll comes to the attention of a sharp-dressed sociopath named Harry Roat (a deliciously suave and absolutely chilling John Hoogenakker). Roat enlists a couple of ex-con con men - the ingratiating Mike (Aaron Todd Douglas, deftly portraying a man whose humanity competes with his greed) and the thuggish Carlino (Norm Boucher) - to retrieve the doll, which Roat believes is somewhere in Sam and Susy's apartment. This results in the trio concocting an elaborate ruse to recover the stash, which has fallen into the hands of Gloria (Hernandez, who shares the role with her sister, Erin), the peevish 9-year-old neighbor who assists Susy when Sam's not around.

Hernandez displays none of that insufferable precociousness embraced by many child actors. (Frankly, Gavino is precocious enough for the both of them). Instead, the young actress plays the character with an entirely credible combination of brattiness and awkwardness.

Finally, Parson does a fine job sustaining the mood, although I wonder if staging the climactic moments in half-light instead of total blackness might have ratcheted up the tension a notch or two.