Review: ‘Wait Until Dark’

Frederick Knott's 1966 suspense melodrama "Wait Until Dark" was always wildly improbable, even though theatergoers were willing to suspend disbelief and keep the play running on Broadway for 374 performances. Things are different in 1998.

Frederick Knott’s 1966 suspense melodrama “Wait Until Dark” was always wildly improbable, even though theatergoers were willing to suspend disbelief and keep the play running on Broadway for 374 performances. Things are different in 1998. Today the play comes across as impossible rather than merely improbable, and neither Quentin Tarantino nor Marisa Tomei makes the suspenser seem anything less than a parody of its genre. A laborious giggle rather than an entertaining scare, “Wait Until Dark” is a dark-horse bet for Broadway success even in the limited run planned for April.

Audiences today likely won’t have the patience for such a tortuously involved tale of three crooks trying to find the whereabouts of a doll stuffed with high-priced drugs. The thugs’ trail leads to a blind woman who is completely unaware of her unwitting role in the drug-smuggling, and, as anyone who remembers the 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin, the suspense results in a lights-out showdown.

Of its three name stars — Tomei, Tarantino and Stephen Lang — Lang is most persuasive, playing a thug with some redeeming features. His role drives much of the play, and Lang acts with skill and personality. As the terrorized blind woman around whom the play revolves, Tomei is attractive enough but acts on few notes, one being overly cute.

But the big disappointment is Tarantino, who displays a lack of both menace and stage technique to make anything of the play’s chief villain. As the amoral killer, Tarantino must impersonate several other characters as he attempts to trick the blind woman, and he’s unconvincing in any guise.

For this revival, “Dark” is performed with one intermission (rather than the original two) and is set in 1998 in a basement apartment on New York’s Lower East Side rather than the Greenwich Village of 1966. Michael McGarty has encased his highly detailed apartment setting in a Kafkaesque brick fortress of a building, its angled wall punctured by only one small, high window. The stage apron is also angled, protruding out beyond the proscenium at one point in order to bring the action as close to the audience as possible.

When the play begins, the brick citadel rises and the basement interior rolls forward. Rain pouring down the windows, thunder, traffic noises and ominous rumblings, along with Brian MacDevitt’s lighting (much of the play is performed in partial or complete darkness) are honorable, though not necessarily successful, attempts at creating the proper chilling atmosphere.

Young Imani Parks is fine as the little girl who has a lot to do with the heroin-stuffed doll that the thugs are seeking. James Whalen, as Tomei’s photographer husband, seems a bit wimpy to have once been a tough Marine. Juan Carlos Hernandez is acceptable as the third and dumbest punk, as are Diana LaMar and Ritchie Coster in their brief appearances.

Director Leonard Foglia and his cast have clearly tried their best to bring the play to life, but its first act remains all dull setup, and the second is increasingly laughable in its carryings-on. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of a play whose time has come and gone.

Wait Until Dark

Wilbur Theater, Boston; 1,192 seats; $62.50 top


An Alan N. Lichtenstein, Robert L. Young, Gregory Young, Jon B. Platt, Liz Oliver, Stewart F. Lane and Rodger Hess presentation in association with Olympia Entertainment of a play in two acts by Frederick Knott. Directed by Leonard Foglia.


Set, Michael McGarty; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Brian MacDevitt; sound, Darron L. West; production stage manager, Michael Brunner. Opened, reviewed March 5, 1998. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.


Cast: Marisa Tomei(Susy Hendrix), Quentin Tarantino (Harry Roat), Stephen Lang (Mike Talman), Juan Carlos Hernandez (Sgt. Carlino), Imani Parks (Gloria), James Whalen (Sam Hendrix), Ritchie Coster (Police Officer), Diana LaMar (Lisa/Police Officer).
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