Theater

DARK VICTORY

Sometimes the dark is safer than the light. Sometimes a blind woman can "see" more clearly than those whose eyes have not dimmed.

In Wait Until Dark, at the South Suburban Theatre Company, the heroine of the story is a young woman, recently blinded and still learning to maneuver around the apartment she shares with her husband, much less the wide world beyond the front door. When three menacing men invade her home, all the skills she has so painfully mastered as a blind person become her lifeline.

At first, Susy Hendrix's ex-Marine husband seems an unsympathetic brute as he scolds and bullies Susy into gaining more independence. Blinded in a car accident only a year before, Susy dreads every new task the paternalistic Sam assigns her. Defrosting the fridge with boiling water, crossing streets unaided, finding her way wherever she needs to go--everything frightens her. She doesn't like the little girl who comes to help her every day. She hates to be left alone, but as a photographer, Sam often has to take overnight assignments and day trips that leave Susy behind in the dark.

On one of these trips, before the action of the play, Sam met a woman who asked him to bring a doll to a little girl in the hospital. Unbeknownst to him, the doll held a king's ransom in heroin. When the woman tried to collect the doll, Sam couldn't find it.

Soon after that, a certain business associate of the drug lady, one Harry Roat, murdered her and roped two other men into hiding the body.

Now the three try to trick young Susy into revealing the whereabouts of the doll. They plot to undermine her confidence in her husband, with Mike pretending to be Sam's old army buddy and Carlino a suspicious cop investigating Sam for murder (of the very woman Harry had killed). Mike convinces Susy that they must find the doll and get rid of it before the cops close in with a search warrant.

But the villains fail to reckon with Susy's faith in her husband, as well as with her acute hearing--she pays attention to tiny details the others don't even notice. Susy is no fool, and when she realizes something foul is afoot, she rigs the lights. As a result, several minutes of the play are presented in total darkness--and it's amazing how much tension director Jane Page can squeeze into those few blacked-out moments.

Trudi Carin Voth's range as an actress is just as impressive. She gives Susy a fragile exterior and an interior as tough and bright as a diamond; her layered, charismatic reading makes us believe that Susy, as naive as she at first seems, has the intelligence to question "appearances" and to trust her own instincts, to trust what she actually knows rather than what she has been told. She knows her husband. She cannot be fooled by lies about him.

Marc Robins makes a fabulously terrifying sociopath as Harry Roat; the attempted rape sequences are positively disgusting and mercifully free of titillation. Robins has the kind of face you usually associate with romantic leads, but here he manages menace with something approaching sick glee.

Clint Heyn's softer-hearted thief, Mike, takes a little time to establish that he's not made of malice, and the process engages us fully. Kip Yates as Carlino seems a bit unfocused; this may be a directorial choice, since the actor is well equipped to investigate a juicy small role like this one. And Allison Greenstein makes a marvelous little cat of a child (the girl who shops for Susy): sharp claws, but a furry, better nature.

Wait Until Dark was a good, taut mystery on film, and it's an absorbing piece of theater. When the lights go out and only Susy knows her way in the dark, roles are suddenly reversed--even for the audience. Now you are blind--and only the blind can "see.

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