Seeing in the Dark

Seacoast Rep's sensitive interplay
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  March 5, 2008
theater_waituntildarkINSIDE
THE SIGHTED SEEKING THE BLIND: At
Seacoast Repertory Theatre.

Susy (Laura Sowa) is a tireless master over the landscape of her Manhattan basement apartment. This is particularly impressive because she can’t see any of it. Recently blinded in an auto accident, Susy navigates around her studio-style, vintage ’60s abode — including a steep staircase, a kitchen island, and plenty of pointy quotidian objects — with a stubborn determination. But throw a trinity of sneaky, dissembling thugs into the household mix, and you have an extra-challenging situation for a young blind woman. At once fierce and vulnerable, Sowa’s excellent Susy is the formidable linchpin of Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s beautifully produced but slightly slack production of the classic thriller Wait Until Dark, directed by Dan Beaulieu.

Suzy’s apartment happens to be the supposed location of a certain doll, highly coveted by the bad guys on account of being stuffed to the seams with pure heroin. Ringleader Roat (John McCluggage), has rounded up younger crooks Mike (CJ Lewis) and Carlino (Robin Fowler). They get her photographer husband Sam (a brief but satisfying turn by Christopher Emerson Kelly) out of the house, and proceed to act out their assigned roles, weaving a complex fiction designed to get Susy on the defensive.

Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott | Directed by Dan Beaulieu | Produced by the Seacoast Repertory Theatre, in Portsmouth NH | through March 16 | 603.433.4472
Because of Susy’s blindness, there are two levels to the thieves’ playacting with her: what she hears, and what everybody else (including us) can see. There’s the potential for great dramatic irony in the tension between the two — via, for example, lots of facial expressions and other shenanigans that don’t match the spoken tones — and it’s a potential that Beaulieu could do more to exploit. Often, as Mike and Carlino go about their storytelling, their assumed characters tend to merge a little too easily with their “real” characters.

The pacing might be tightened a bit in the fraught pauses that draw out the play’s climax. Light and dark play important, wonderfully staged roles in the cat-and-mouse final showdown, but occasionally we wait in the dark a hair too long for the next bump — rather than jump at it before we are ready.

But generally the production moves well, and its thrills are brought to tingling heights by the show’s set, lighting, and other atmospherics. Susy’s apartment (wonderfully uber-realistic, with lots of classic furnishings and avocado green) has a beautifully intimidating long staircase running the back of the set; a low-angle spot up through the rungs of the banister projects sinister shadows to die for, and a red gel over Sam’s photo enlarger (as a developing light) is another fine effect. The production also pipes in, as overtures, scraps of classic scary strings, deftly enough to stir the goosebumps.

The force of the play that most definitively rouses the chills is Susy herself. In Sowa’s hands she is reed-like in sensitivity, and so convincing in the mannerisms of her blindness that I often found myself pulled into the dark. When she first enters her apartment, alone, and the three bad guys try to play not-there, she passes deliciously close to each of them, the quivers of perception palpable in her face and frame. Sowa also gives Susy a fine arc, particularly in relation with her rascally young neighbor, Gloria (Ally Foy, also excellent), as circumstances force the two stubborn females from mutual belligerence toward a working affection.

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  Topics: Theater , Seacoast Repertory Theatre, John McCluggage, CJ Lewis
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