Arts & Culture Editor
“Wait Until Dark” at The Fulton Theatre tells the spine tingling tale of a young physically blind woman, Susan Hendrix (Katherine Fried) who is in grave danger after she gains possession of a mysterious doll that three con men, Sergeant Carlino (Peter Bisgaier), Mike Talman (Kevin Earley) and Harry Roat (Zack Calhoon) are after. The plot thickens after a young girl, Gloria (Carly Evans) gets involved as does Mike Talman who grows a closer emotional connection to Susan. Although written in the 1960s, its haunting climax leaves a chill that still haunts audiences’ today.
Fried gives a commanding yet sympathetic performance as Susan. Although the actress portrays the characters’ disability believably, it is the dignity and sense of sympathy Fried brings to Susan that makes her such a worthy guide for the audience. Her performance is the beating heart that supports the exposition filled first act as each character and puzzle piece of this thriller is introduced. She has strong chemistry with Earley’s, Mike Talman. Fried’s Susan is a woman who has faced much adversity with her disability, but still won’t let life get her down. Her Susan is a strong horror heroine for todays’ audience.
Earley gives much sympathy to the character of Mike Talman, an old friend of Susan’s husband, Sam Hendrix (Anson J.H. Woodin) from their marine days. Although initially a kind yet mysterious figure, Mike throughout the story begins to gain much respect for Susan as she slowly begins to unravel the pieces of the play’s mystery. He has excellent and effortless chemistry with Fried. Seeing Earley’s Talman open up throughout his time with Fried’s Susan is one of the many highlights of the night. In this suspenseful play, their relationship is a constant bright spot.
Calhoon is absolutely terrifying as Harry Roat. From the first spine tingling introduction of the character, Roat is quickly established as the leader of these con men. Ruthless and willing to kill or hurt anyone on a dime for what he wants, the character is ultimately the one who brings the horror elements of the play. His heart stopping moments with Fried’s Susan near the conclusion of the play sends chills throughout the audience. The slimy physicality Calhoon gives Roat as he creeps along the stage is frighteningly vivid. The actor completely transforms into this terrifying horror of a man and is absolutely riveting in his portrayal.
Woodin delivers a lovely turn as Susan’s kind and supportive husband, Sam. Although a smaller role, Woodin very successfully brings some warmth to this man who simply wants the best for his wife. Woodins’ scenes with Fried’s Susan help to establish the down to earth nature of her character. Even as Susan struggles with being blind, in her scenes with Woodin, it is clear that Susan is no victim. Woodin brings an almost playful quality to his character that makes him especially endearing. He brings the hope before the darkness that appears later in the show.
Peter Gaisier puts in a fine turn as Sergeant Carlino, who is one of the key members of Roat’s scheme. Although maybe not the brightest, Gaisier brings a danger to this character in his first scene with Calhoon’s Roat which sets up effortlessly the suspense to come later in the play. Carly Evans is also very strong as Gloria, a spunky young girl from next door. The character starts out a bit cloying, yet Evans establishes throughout this young girl as someone very smart and a worthy supporting player to Fried’s Susan.
Andrew Kindig does very fine work with his direction of this suspenseful piece. He gets excellent performances out of the entire cast, which helps especially in adding some engagement and integrity to the slower paced first act of the play. Once the second act comes, the play and production are a nonstop thrill ride as Fried’s Susan along with the rest of the audience are trying to get to the bottom of this case. Kindig in his direction manages to build great suspense particularly in the chilling opening and closing scenes. He finds tension in the moments of silence with the help of the various elements in the production.
Mary Lana Rice’s deeply evocative lighting is almost a character in and of itself. With moody shadows that creep into the windows of William James Mohney’s 1940’s apartment set, Rice’s lighting reveals the danger that is always lurking right under the surface of Susan’s world. Rice even finds unexpected sources of atmospheric lights in objects as simple as a fridge. When Rice’s lights plunge the audience into complete darkness, the production and her design reaches the level of complete brilliance. This artistic choice brings the audience into Susan’s mind and world as she sees it, without a light yet still resilient. Not only does this artistic choice work incredibly successful as a thrilling trick of theatre, but also one that gives the audience a deeper insight into the protagonist. Rice’s lights are a work of art that are truly commendable.
William James Mohney’s sound design is also very strong in incorporating the suspense that so present in the performances and in Rice’s lighting. When the lights are completely off, the sound is still very easy to hear, and is the audiences’ way of following the scene. Katelin Walsko’s prop design is also incredibly realistic as the smoke from the stage and fire that occur in the pieces’ closing moments feel very real. William James Mohney’s apartment set is filled to the brim with details and secrets that continue to delight and intrigue throughout. He creates an excellent playing space for the excitement and mystery to come. These design elements together work in perfect harmony in creating an atmosphere of fear and suspense.
With absolutely masterful creative design elements, a committed ensemble of actors and clear direction, This production is a fine example of what great technical elements with the hands of a clear directorial vision can do in creating a vivid atmosphere of suspense and horror. Although the first half of the play is a slow burn, it builds to a crescendo that is haunting and supremely satisfying. The Fulton’s “Wait Until Dark” is a spine tingling play that leaves its audiences on an enormous high after this thrilling production.