Susan Hendrix lost her eyesight in a car accident about a year and a half ago.
Her husband, Sam, expects her to be a “champion blind woman.”
And boy, does she deliver in “Wait Until Dark,” which officially opens at the Fulton’s Tell Studio Theatre tonight.
“Susan is frustrated not being able to do things,” says Katherine Fried, who is playing her. “She is in the midst of constant negotiations with her confidence and ability. She’s got insecurities and capabilities.”
Sam, her husband, is away. A photographer, he travels a lot.
It is on a trip when a stranger puts a doll into her husband’s bag at the airport.
When she calls a few days later, neither Sam nor Susan can find the doll.
The original play was written by Frederick Knott in 1966. (A successful movie, starring Audrey Hepburn was released the following year.) The adaptation the Fulton is using was written by Jeffrey Hatcher in 2013. It is set in 1944.
“It cleaves very close to the original,” says Zach Calhoon, who is playing Harry Roat, a violent criminal who wants the missing doll.
“But the style and atmosphere of the play are changed. There are twists that create a surprise even for people who know and love the play and the movie.”
Susan is alone in the house when three criminals, looking for the doll, arrive.
In the original play, the doll was filled with heroin. This time it’s diamonds.
The criminals want the doll and they know it is at the Hendrix home, a basement apartment in Greenwich Village. They murdered the woman who gave the doll to Sam.
First, “Sergeant Carlino” (Peter Bisgaier) arrives and warns Susan that the police are looking for the doll and for Sam. Susan tells him she doesn’t know where the doll is.
Next comes Mike (Kevin Earley), who claims to be an old war buddy of Sam.
But the true bad guy is Roat, who is desperate to find the doll.
Unbeknownst to everyone, Gloria (Carly Evans), a young girl who lives upstairs, has taken the doll.
“Roat lacks empathy. He’s impatient,” Calhoon says. “As we work on him (in rehearsals) and when I am muttering lines on the street, everybody seems to get very uncomfortable around him. He oozes malevolence.”
He does evil things to his two partners and is left alone with Susan.
“He thinks he has the upper hand because Susan is blind,” Calhoon says. “But he is trying to make sure variables don’t fall apart.”
But Fried sees the strengths of Susan.
“She has sensory intelligence. She had inklings to things the public (or Roat) won’t pick up on until later. She is able to use her inability as a powerful thing.”
Fried has been closing her eyes and counting spaces so she is familiar with the apartment in a different kind of way than a sighted person would be.
Much of the second act takes place in the dark, which evens the playing field for Susan.
“I am curious about the silence and the way people will be asked to tune into their imagination,” Fried says. “Silence is powerful.”
“People who are more quiet and still, more threatening than a boisterous, larger than life character,” Calhoon says.
When the lights go out — after Susan has smashed every lightbulb in the apartment — the stage will go pitch black.
Both Fried and Calhoon agree “Wait Until Dark” is filled with plenty of on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments.
As Calhoon says, “If we do our job right, we will scare a lot of people.”¶