Review: “Wait Until Dark” at Vertigo Theatre

Vicki Trask

OnStage Calgary Critic

I was happily able to attend the preview performance of “Wait Until Dark” at Vertigo Theatre to a nearly sold out house and a boisterous audience. The 3rd production in this season’s BD&P Mystery Theatre Series had everything it promised to bring: murder, intrigue, suspense, and a few laughs to ease the tension.

Adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, this two act play was directed by Simon Mallett, telling the story of Susan, a blind woman being hunted by three men in their search for a mysterious doll. Many of you might have seen the 1967 film by the same name staring Audrey Hepburn. It’s a story firmly in the suspense and drama category which had me on the edge of my seat all night. 

The first thing that captured my eye as I walked into The Playhouse was the incredible set design by David Fraser. He has created a semi-functional apartment with a fridge, working faucet, light switches, and a completely filled space – no fake doors, or empty drawers. He gave the space a very homey feel. I remember watching aspects of the apartment (the faucet, for example) wondering what their purpose could possibly be and yet every working item lent themselves to the plot. To me, that’s a successful concept: when an aesthetically pleasing design also has function, and easily accessible sight lines. Even back in the nose-bleed seats, I could see everything and everything made sense.

Another huge aspect of this story is the lighting. A large part of the second act involves eliminating all light from the stage. As we go through every lightbulb, every lamp, every outside source, I was fascinated by the way Alison Yanota lit the space. The one part that took me out of the story was during the climax. The set is completely in darkness and the drama is at its highest because you can hear the action but you can’t see it. Most of that tension comes from that lack of light but after a while, the audience began to adjust to the darkness and I think it lasted too long. However, I the concept was well thought out and the lighting was well executed.

The same can be said of the costume design by Deitra Kalyn. 1944 New York is a very specific time to see a show and I think, for the most part, Deitra’s designs were period and age appropriate. Gloria’s costume was the only one that stood out, and not obtrusively so; I think the cut and the material was a little too progressive for the time period. The other cast members seemed well suited to their costumes and fit their personalities. 

I have to applaud fight director Karl Sine and actors Anna Cummer and Michael Tan. Their work in the final scene was phenomenal. I was on the edge of my seat, watching – and hearing the action unfold. It was a terrifying and fantastic way to end the show.

Tyrell Crews plays Sam, Susan’s husband whose departure triggers the plot. While a vital character, he is seen very little on stage and so it was difficult to get a read of Tyrell’s ability. What I saw was kind but harsh and in line with the way Sam is written. 

Then we have Gloria, the nosey young girl who lives upstairs. Also instrumental to the plot – though a much more active member – young Emma Ross played a petulant yet still endearing child with great ease. She was the breath of fresh air to break the tension for a lot of the show. 

Paul Cowling played a brutish and stereotypical Carlino, the crooked cop and the muscle of the operation. He is the embodiment of that noir trope and I think Paul did a great job of bringing Carlino to life. His movements her heavy and, his voice had a low pattern to it; I have no complaints.

Sympathetic con-artist Mike, played by Stafford Perry, was a fascinating character to watch. He’s really the only one with an emotional progression and I didn’t expect to feel sorry for him but I did. From an audience perspective, watching a villain with a moral compass is engaging theatre. Stafford nailed it. Even from way in the back, I could see his shifts in character and his little ticks as his opinion changed. His non-vocalized character moments were what sold it for me.

Then we come to Roat, played by Michael Tan, the dark-hearted villain of the story. Michael played slimy and cold very well. The script lends itself to an unsympathetic antagonist and that is exactly what we got. He was smooth and almost suave in movement and yet he used sharp, precise steps to command the apartment before he entered the room. My mind still comes back to the final scene. The battle between him and Susan is the last real impression the audience has of these two and it is intense. Michael gave an almost animal-like quality to his performance and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  

Finally we come to Anna Cummer, playing Susan, our recently blind protagonist. In concept, this is a challenging role to play and in execution, I imagine it is even more difficult. I will not declare that Anna gave a flawless performance – there was one specific moment that stuck in my head, reminding me she was only acting – but as quickly as those moments came, we were back into the action and all was forgiven. I really enjoyed watching the different techniques Anna and Susan utilized like counting steps and tapping items to find her way. Her performance was clearly well-researched, and well-rehearsed; her terror seemed genuine, her cunning was clearly executed, and I followed her journey with ease. I think she led the cast very well. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Vertigo Theatre’s “Wait Until Dark”; an intensely thrilling night of theatre.

Photos by: Citrus Photography