Toronto’s Bygone Theatre presents an intimate, exciting production of the play Wait Until Dark
The Tarragon Theatre Rehearsal Hall, that cosy little space, is currently home to Bygone Theatre’s very exciting production of Wait Until Dark. I am particularly drawn to these small spaces where the actors are practically in my lap. And Frederick Knott’s thriller is suited to such a venue, where you feel intimately familiar with every light switch, door knob and footfall.
I saw the Audrey Hepburn film way back when I was a kid and recalled only small fragments of action. I remember being struck by the climax and yet I found myself totally captivated here—and extremely worried—despite my knowing, essentially, what was going to happen.
There is a goofiness to the plot and characters in the opening scenes that endeared them to me, even the bad guys. Despite the fact that we know they are involved in nasty stuff like drug running and murder, there is an aw shucks quality to the writing and performances that disarms you. The terror of the final moments is so effective because that potential for real violence that was shoved to the back of your mind suddenly becomes a reality.
Dave Walpole and Marc Nocent have an amusing camaraderie as two ex-convicts who bumble their way into a devious con man’s scheme. They are sent to retrieve a doll packed with heroine and hidden somewhere in a small apartment. Despite their silly and playful jabs at each other, we do know that they are potentially dangerous men, but they keep that harsh reality at bay for quite a while.
Even Eric Miinch as the main villain, Roat, is charming at first, though I did find his vocal rhythms and body language initially off-putting; he seemed to be channelling Crispen Clover’s awkward yet persistent schtick, but his demeanour becomes truly terrifying in the final scene as his sinister intentions are laid bare. When the tension is highest, Miinch really nails it as a fierce monster hidden beneath a meek demeanour.
Suzi, our recently blind protagonist, is trying to find new ways of dealing with the mundane tasks of life without eyesight. Her husband has inadvertently thrown her into this dangerous situation by bringing home the doll that these criminals are after. Shannon Lahaie is adorable as she plays with the feisty and clever aspects of Suzie, but she never leans too heavily on that sweet girl with gumption trope. She gives us a well-rounded, intriguing character. Suzi, it turns out, can even be kind of a jerk, especially towards her adolescent helper, Gloria.
Gloria! My favourite character relationship is the one Suzi has with Gloria. Their dynamic starts off as a mutually antagonistic one, but becomes a true partnership. It is rare to see dramatized a relationship where an adult and a child are dramatic equals. Each resents the other and yet Suzi and Gloria are drawn to each other. Even before Suzi relies on her for more dangerous tasks, there is something so vibrant and fascinating about their moments together.
Abby Strachan is very funny—and touching—as the precocious Gloria. Her scenes with Suzi are, for me, a highlight of this production.
Andrew Lorimer as Suzi’s husband Sam as natural and engaging as the rest of the cast, but the story doesn’t really concern him. He appears for two scenes and we understand that he cares for Suzi and is encouraging her to be independent, but we never really know or care who he is.
Jackie McClelland’s period set is spot on. The dark peach colour of the walls and that clunky old fridge really sold the mid-60s.
Emily Dix’ direction achieves great naturalism with the environment and the performances. I wasn’t, however, such a fan of the more obviously theatrical lighting effects she employs at key moments. These stylistic flourishes are well-executed, but seemed out of place to me given the overall style of the production.
Despite some minor technical glitches and a couple of fumbled lines, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. And the climax is—wow—intense. It is a shame this very exciting show has such a short run. It ends this Saturday; don’t miss out!