Discussing his performance in the movie Wait Until Dark, Alan Arkin said: "I terrorized Audrey Hepburn in that film and have since appeared in a series of heartwarming PBS films to make up for it."
The character Arkin played, Harry Roat Jr., is a pretty vile creature. Before we even meet him he's sadistically murdered who knows how many. In this play by Frederick Knott, Roat has set his sights on Susy Hendrix, who may or may not be in possession of a heroin-filled doll, and he's only happy to do to Susy whatever it takes to get the doll.
Oh and by the way, Susy is blind. He really is a bastard.
Knott is the author of another famous thriller, Dial "M" for Murder. While it's easy to say both are stronger in plot mechanics than in depth of character study, I have to say I don't care: I love thrillers, and Knott was considered a standout in the genre for a very good reason. Wait Until Dark is a fascinating case of a playwright closing one theatrical door after another until the play finally comes down to two people trapped on stage, with the only way out for either of them being the death of the other. It's how Knott gets us to that point that I find amazing.
Directing this Little Lake Theatre production, Jena Oberg is all about helping Knott get us to that point as well. It must be said that Knott uses one or two gimmicks to grease the wheels of this theatrical engine, but Oberg chugs smoothly on, not allowing the slight illogic to derail either her or us.
Helping propel us down this track (where the hell did this railroad metaphor come from?) are a uniformly first-rate cast of quite strong actors, including Scott Van de Mark, Sarah Violi, Jim Auld and, especially, Michael Shahen. And in the final death-match that is, in reality, the whole reason for Wait Until Dark, Sara Barbish and Art DeConciliis create a pretty vivid example of skilled and tight teamwork; it's rare for me to actually get frightened during a play (at least for the reason the playwright intended). But this production has its hair-raising moments and I congratulate them emphatically for that.
Wait Until Dark continues through Sat., Oct. 17. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheatre.org